Once again Mark Davidson found himself in a psychologist's office; the brass strongly suggested psychological help a few months ago. He attended a few sessions and since the shrink was an attractive blonde he continued attending these early morning sessions that took place every other Wednesday.
"Have you changed your mind about the hypnosis?" the shrink asked.
"You should think about it, I think it might answer some of our questions."
"Yeah, well, you want to see horror, I'll show you horror. No way, who knows what lurks inside my head. The last "professional" I saw," he said using his fingers as quotation marks, "said it was rage and, me, I like that theory. You know what I think, I think it all has to do with my Dad's murder and my mom's subsequent suicide. Those weirdo sociologists I read in college were right, a fucked up childhood can fuck things up real good. You want to know what I think? I got a feeling that I'll soon be following my mom down insanity's cruel but very colorful path."
The shrink looked upset. That made Davidson happy.
Partly because the city just wasn't as pissed off today and partly because of the shrink appointment, the shift almost flew by uneventfully. Davidson and his partner Gillespie were patrolling their portion of Philly's 25th District and were close to calling it a day when the call from dispatch came over the radio. The chick on the radio said a neighbor phoned in that there was a particular smell coming from an old lady's house over on
Tilton Street. The guy hadn't seen the woman in a couple days and that, he said, was unusual.
"We're on our way," Mark radioed back. Gillespie pulled a uturn and they headed down
Girard avenuetoward where they knew they were going to be finding a dead old lady. "Sounds pretty easy," Davidson said as stared out the window.
As Gillespie drove in no big hurry, Mark surveyed the landscape: this neighborhood was now acre after acre of abandoned factories and warehouses, empty save for pigeon shit and rats. The nearby docks are no picnic area either. The rowhomes that dominate the landscape formerly housed the area's factory and dock workers.
This is not a pretty area and it never was.
Davidson's empty but alcohol stomach churned. He closed his aching eyes and thought hard about the end of the shift. Probabl his last shift. What the fuck am I doing in this pit? he wonders to himself as they drove through hell.
YOU ARE HERE FRIEND BECAUSE YOU FUCKED UP, a voice from deep inside his head screamed out.
Probably sensing Mark's brooding, Gillespie spoke up. "Didja know Philly's in the book of Revelations?"
"Yeah, no shit, how bout that."
"It would sure make me feel better if it was in the book of Genesis, you know?"
"I hear you brother. I hope I don't puke and what the fuck is with all this heat? It's too fucking hot for late October, what? is it like a hundred degrees out here?"
Pretty fucking close....
Global warming is a fact and global cooling is gonna be another fact in another time and both of em fuck us every time. Every goddamned time...
"Yeah, well, me," Gillespie said, "I don't think it industry,' I think it's God punishing us all. These October heat waves are killing a lot of alpo eating old people, a lot of people who couldn't tell you the difference between a flurocarbon and a carbon copy."
They drove on for a few more minutes and arrived at the residence.
An old man came out of his tiny rowhome and met the officers. "You the guy that called?" Gillespie asked. The old man nodded his head a couple times; the guy seemed to be smiling weird. He pointed to the old lady's house. The old man wanted to follow them in. Mark almost had to shove him backward.
Knock ... knock ... knock.
"Police," Mark announced loudly, anyone home?" (Anyone alive?)
Gillespie kicked in the door. Immediately identifiable inside was a dead plump old woman slumped in her favorite chair. Dust mingled gently in the now brightly lit living room.
The place smelled like houses that contain dead bodies usually smell-- like moldy meat and vegetable matter carelessly left to decay. Even above the stench of the bloated corpse, the smell of nearby Allied Chemical-- visible from the housels front steps-- drifted into the house, creating a horrible smelling mixture of death and chemicals. Oh, well, life in the hot, cramped city.
"Hoooweee, Gillespie cried out in mock imitation of 1930s black actors, "it be stinkin in here...."
They put on their city supplied paper respirators and entered the house.
Flies from the outside-- yes flies in October!-- were making this place their new home: one landed on the back of Mark's neck and bit him like a horsefly. He tried smacking but missed and it escaped back outside, its blood appetite satisfied.
"You all right?" Gillespie asked.
"Yeah, man, all in a day's work, you know?"
Gillespie radioed in the situation on the hand held. "Dispatch send over the coroner wagon to 3334 Tilton will ya. over."
"They're on their way over," the sweet voice crackled over the radio as Gillespie replaced the mic. They both heard something from the upstairs. They looked at each other and nodded.
"I'll take the upstairs," Gillespie said, "you all right down here, man?"
"Yeah, I'm fine would you quit asking me if I'm ok?"
"You look a little frazzled is all partner."
They drew their guns and separated.
Davidson made an instinctive visual sweep before entering the small kitchen. Once inside, he checked out the shattered back window that led to the postage stamp size backyard. He looked over to where there used to be a radiator before someone ripped it off to get some crack money down at the local recycling center.
(She's beautiful Mark) cried a sweet female voice from nowhere.
The door leading to the basement had also been removed. Our tired hungover cop looked downward into the dark space and listened to what sounded like a broken pipe dripping into a half flooded basement. Tiny splashes echoed. Let the detectives figure out what was down there, Mark figured to himself after beginning to notice that this place was starting to look and smell like a crime scene.
He turned his attention to the rusty kitchen sink: there was a dead alleycat inside, a small crucifix jammed into into its fanged mouth. Blood trailed downward into the drain, quite a bit of blood. The cat's gritted teeth clued him in that it had died extremely involuntarily; blood on its now stiff claws revealed that the cat had likely put up a fight before succumbing.
A baby's tortured wail emanated from one of the nearby houses, sounding like it was but a few feet away. Davidson wasn't sure if he was hearing his own heart pumping blood like mad or if it was his mind playing tricks.
Mark saw that the dead woman's tiny backyard had been claimed by some sort of thorny bush which managed to wrap around everything including the little picnic bench that sat out there, just a few feet from an old rotting birdbath....
More flies had entered the house, he noticed, lazily watching them fly around the rotted kitchen-- but appearing to avoid the cat's corpse.
Then he heard Gillespie's call for him to get upstairs (muffled): "Mark I need you up here pronto!" Davidson tore through the living room and up the stairs. Gillespie stood outside the master bedroom.
"Man," Gillespie said, "you gotta see this." Doom dripped from his quivering voice.
Mark poked his head inside the room-- quickly-- he knew from the look on Gillespie's face that it was going to be bad.
Inside the bright room with three windows-- a dry dusty mess of a room-- were eight corpses (in varying stages of decomposition). The corpses appeared to be performing some sort of dead sex show. The dead performed the show on the torn and soiled mattresses that looked to have been strategically placed in a circular pattern on top of the bare and worn looking wooden floor. "The artist has done a terrific job simulating movement," Gillespie stated in a voice so flat that Mark could not tell whether he was sincere or if he was throwing him a dose of gallows humor. This little piece of art was creating all kinds of the little psychic flashes that had introduced themselves into Davidson's life a few months after the car accident-- the one that killed his fiancee, Lenny.
"You know any of them?" Gillespie asked Mark.
"Not really but I think that one's a whore who works out of the pomo cinema on
Church Street. "
"I guess we solved our serial killer problem," Gillespie said as he kicked one of the many hypodermics left about the room, perhaps by the artist herself.
Mark walked to the closet and put his hand on the old fashioned glass knob. "Do we even want to open this thing?" he asked.
"You think she can top this?" Gillespie queried back, pointing to the bizarre sculpture.
Mark opened the closet, ready to pull the trigger on the 9mm, equally ready ready to find a suspect trying to hide under a pile of blankets like a three year old.
Gillespie turned the knob and opened the door. Inside, a human infant's clean skeleton hung from the closet's coat rod. The artist wrapped the string around the infant skeleton's neck and suspended it from the coat rod. Mark watched the skeleton spin. The twirling skeleton induced pyschic flashes inside Mark's head: flashes of wooly mammoths running across the plains as Davidson's tribe chases them, spears in hand. More flashes: blood filled goblets toasted at a feast of mammoth meat and an Old One's Approved blood soaked orgy on top of the slaughtered mammoth's furs. Strange statuary keeps a close watch on things. Someone in the tribe beats on drums.
It's Kegger Time Mark and we all know that Robertas is as good as it's ever gonna get for you again pal....it was time to tie on a load.
Blood, statues and drums.
Mark cried out, they were back in the car now; strange little blackout... he walked from the old lady's workroom to the car inside that hallucination.
"What?" Gillespie asked gently.
"Nothing, I could use a beer."
Davidson watched the gumshoes talk to the old man (who just kept shrugging his shoulders, the weird smile wiped from his face); his attention moves over to the kids playing in the fire hydrant spray. One of them steps on what must be glass; red spray is every where and all hell breaks loose. Gillespie and one of the coroner people rush over and administer some first aid; then his attention drfited over to the back windshield of an old Toyota parked on the narrow street. In whitewash: RIP Marcos.
Roberta's Place is a cop and doughnut shop waitress bar. It's over by Front and
, about equal distance from the river and the house of death Mark and Gillespie had just visited and left to the detectives. The place had a half-century habit of being passed down from retired cop to retired cop. Sometimes the name changed when the place changed hands, the crowd always looked alike. Aging sports pennants, memorializing pro teams of days gone by decorate the brown paneled walls. Black and white pictures also dominated the decor, mostly they were of cop softball teams affiliated with the bar. Delaware
One of these pictures was that of a guy laying dead at first base, the guy was a 40ish cop who pushed it real hard. Davidson didn't know him; he was a kid when the picture was taken.
A local right wing whacko ranted on the radio which blared from on top of the old cash register.
The Sports Network was showing pro wrestling to none of the five excops sitting still as death at the bar, loyally drinking their brands. That's about the extent of the activity until someone explodes into a drunken rage which was about once a week.
"Did I ever tell you that my first memories are of this very bar? Yeah, my grandfather used to bring me here after he retired as Inspector. Old whiskey, that's my first memory. Last week the shrink asked me to think of my first memories: sight, sound, touch, smell and hearing. Old reeking whiskey was my first 'smell memory."
"I heard about your find over on
Front Street," Bill said, slapping his palm to the bar. "A fucking old lady who plays with corpses and then dies from natural causes, you think that bitch is burning in hell?"
"I don't know, I really don't believe in heaven or hell or that kind of stuff, you know?"
"Fuck that, I believe there's a heaven and I believe there's a hell alright. This city, for instance, when your dad, God rest his soul, and I patrolled this neighborhood it was wonderful, maybe not wonderful like heaven but not the hell that it is today!"
"What are you talking about? My dad got his throat cut by a junkie fifteen years ago......
"Yeah, it was just better then," Bob said, trailing off-- out of ideas and bad history.
"Can I get a fucking beer please?" one of the sour looking ex cops called out and Bill went off that way.
"Yeah of course you can have a beer," Bill replied in tone equally as sour as the excop customer's.
Mark looked down into his bourbon and remembered a daytrip he took with his father to
, a magnificent building partly made from marble. Dad was recording a deed or something and the line at the clerk's office was awfully long so Mark wandered off and soon was in one of the old marble staircases that spiraled downward onto Philadelphia City Hall Market Streetfive stories below. Over a few feet to his left was a snoring bum, a half-filled bottle of Thunderbird wine. Mark figured that if he edged his foot over, just a bit, he could...
... tip that bottle of wine over and send it plummeting to the tile floor below. He did and the bottle smashed into the floor below, splashing the white marble with purple wine.
He came back to reality when Gillespie walked through the swinging bar door, momentarily flooding the cave-like car with light. All the old excops looked up, saw it was no one they were interested in then went back to their new profession, drinking on a cop pension.
"Whazzup," Gillespie asked rhetorically and motioned "2" with his fmgers to Bill. Bill was over in a flash and poured them some more, Gillespie was a Michelob Light drinker and Davidson's latest kick was Bourbon Presbyterians.
"Heavy on the bourbon, " Mark said to Bill as he watched Bill pour and light on the Presbyterian.
Bill obliged, pouring his drink strong.
He sipped his drink and decided to come clean with Gillespie: he was going to be looking for a new partner because Mark was out of the business.
"I'm quitting Dan," Mark began, "I've been thinking about it for some time as you probably could tell."
"Obviously, it's no surprise, you've been through a lot, it's understandable."
"Remember me telling you about my uncle, the minister guy that drowned a few months ago, the one I lived with after my mom killed herself?"
"Yeah, I think I remember you telling me about him. Sure."
"Yeah, well Ol Uncle Kurtz was old; when you gotta go you go, he was ninety one. Anyway, his will's been unsealed and it's going through probate as we speak. He left me an old country roadhouse, with a liquor license. It's been closed since the 70s but it looks like a promising venture-- there's a lot going on in the area and it's easy to see the place as a place people might want to come to for a nice dinner and some drinks. You know watch the birds fly around Hawk Mountain at sunset.
"Uncle Kurtz helped fund his church when he was young minister in the early 30s by running illegal liquor from
down into Philly. He also ran a speakeasy and later a bar right near the wildlife sanctuary. It's an amazingly beautiful locale, especially considering it's only 60 miles from this hellhole." Beck County
"It's a good idea, country life is a better life, brother; if it wasn't for, the place me and Sandy escape to every once in the while in the Catskills, these people around here, shit all this brick and smoke and crap, the way they're cramped in like rats, it drives city folk crazy. Crazy."
"Yeah, well, I got to get the fuck out of here before I go and do something crazy."
The usual seven to ten drinks later (as the shrink's questionnaire would describe it), Mark headed up
Kensington Avenuelong after the autumn sunset. Out of habit formed in childhood, he still walked underneath El tracks, even though many of the stores that used to thrive were now closed. He watched occasional sparks spill downward from the tracks. As he walked by an el station that was closed for renovations, he instinctively noticed a form huddled in the shadows of the closed train station. There were no trains coming by in either direction but, nonetheless, a spark or two fell downward every few seconds. The tiny bit of temporary illumination revealed a diseased looking face but little else.
The huddled form spoke in a gravelly voice: "Hey, eh, as an old churchgoer, I gotta know, what's it like being the son of the devil and all? Hahahaha......
"Whatever you say buddy," Mark's replied as he kept on walking.
"You'll be laughing soon my friend......"
He was smashed, having trouble walking up the street ... aware of the people watching the drunken cop in uniform stagger up
Kensington Avenue. So far he was successful in fighting back a primal scream. The boarded up stores wavered as he looked up at them, squinting, trying his best to focus-- wondering to himself whether he would've been able to find his way around if he had not been in such familiar surroundings. He was pretty drunk-- drunk enough to be brooding about being only 30 years old and having felt too many pangs of loss. Mark Davidson was lost in a whirlpool of grief and alcohol.
Just another few steps and I'll be home, he thought to himself as he staggered into his apartment's vestibule. He walked to his second floor apartment and struggled with fitting the key into the keyhole; it only took a few seconds to get the whole thing urflocked. Home sweet fucking home.
He tossed his revolver onto the kitchen counter that sat in front of him as he walked through his unit's door then he flopped onto his sofa. Thoughts of Lemy, his dear departed fiancee drifted through his conscious thoughts; it was just over one year ago that she'd been killed together in the little car crash that was the last living moment they shared together.
Got to get a little sleep, he thought to himself as he looked down onto the now almost empty
His service revolver is falling from a starry sky, tumbling round and round on its way down ... when it falls into a rural pond, slowly submerging until it comes to rest on a car roof. Mark and Lenny are inside the already water filled car but only Mark is half conscious as he pulls Lenny from her shoulder belt and moves upward to the surface with her. It is apparent to us, the viewers up on the canyon, that Lenny is already dead because she's lost half her head. When he gets to the surface, he watches a cloud pass by the moon. He walks out of the water and into the darkness of the trees. Sounds emanate from the forest, sounds from another world-- we are listening to different drumbeats of this world and maybe others.
The little film inside his head is replaced with ahnost black leader and we watch the numbers scratched on the film race by as the dream database runs its course for now....
He awoke, the hallucination had run its course and theoretically, at least, his body had gotten a dose of mind repairing REM sleep. He rose from the sofa. Someone driving down
Front Streetwas playing more angry gangsta rap.
Opening the refrigerator, he removed the last ten beers, put them into a duffel bag, packed his pistol and he walked out into the city nightscape. He walked toward the river.
What was left of Lemy's face returned for milliseconds when he gazed up at Orion who looked down upon the city, ready to slice Davidson and the rest of the city's vermiin in half with that mighty sword of his.
Talk to some people the litany went, they got groups for people in your situation. You know, others who have lost someone; who knows, you might meet someone. He had been giving a lot of thought recently to joining Lenny for that great gig in the sky but he could not shake that faith leaping brand of atheism he swore by. The doctrine he lived his life by dictated a pretty simple fact: dead was dead and there was no afterlife. Lenny was now a rotting corpse, lying still in the wet and sour earth. Getting fucked by worms. No brand of ministerial comfort will console me. Thank you.
He arrived at his favorite drinking spot on the
; for the past seven months or so he'd been coming to this point of the river where it was still deep enough for the ocean liners to pull in and dock but it was far enough outside of the Center City area that it was real dark and quiet. Delaware
It was nice back there, you just had to watch out for the bums or the homeless or whatever they were; some of em are whacked out enough to cut your throat, especially when his senses were dulled from the liquor. A liner was visible about a half mile away, it would be passing soon.
Standing on the banks of the
, he chugged a can and tossed it into the river and watched it float away. The firefighting academy stood behind him, its mock buildings burned and scarred from years of service. Delaware
The bank was muddy; his feet disappeared into the thick riverside mud a half inch or so with every step.
Davidson fired his revolver into sky for no reason, whooping it up a bit, daring someone to stop him.
"Fuck em all, let your gods sort them out!
He swallowed more cheap beer. As the ocean liner passed by on its way to the seedier docking section to unload its wares, our hero began screaming at the ship. A stream of mcoherent rants directed at cheap Filipino trinkets. The liner made a wake which was splashing at Mark's feet. He walked into the water.
(Join us again Mark ... join us again Mark and leave all the grief behind .... )
"No!" was his response to the voices clambering about in his head. He pulled his revolver from his pants and walked further into the river, up to his hips. Tears poured from his eyes, creating little rainbows when he looked across the river at
's sanitation division. He fired some shots into the sky. Camden
"Not enough left you say?"
He put the gun to his temple, paused for a couple milliseconds, then fired. Blowing his brains out. His body slumped into the river. The liner tugged its hom in the distance. The body floated around for a half minute or so before the river's lifeforce qualities were summoned to serve one of its masters and began the re- birthing job.
The pieces of his head were making their way back to his body as it rebuilt itself in sync with the floating rhythm of the river's wake. I GUESS THEY'RE NOT GONNA LET YOU DIE THIS TIME, a voice echoed from somewhere inside the darkness.
October 27, Approximately
Mark awoke with a splitting headache long after the sun had come up and provided him and the rest of the city with another fucked up ozone kinda day: too hot and muggy for late October. He didn't remember too much past drinks with Gillespie at Robertas (which sounded good right about now).
There was a homeless looking black guy, must've been in his late 50s, sitting five or six yards away. As Mark walked closer, he saw the guy had no eyes, just dried out sockets.
"I had a few beers last night, you said it was fine last night."
"Yeah, great. How long have you been here?"
"About , that's when I found the beers. You stumbled in here crying about a half hour later, mumbling something, asking someone-- who knows who-- why won't you let me die? Why won't you let me die? You were trying to blow your head off with that empty revolver. Shit, you musta sat there and pulled the trigger 20 times, obviously I was a little concerned when I came upon you, thought maybe you was gonna shoot me. Weird shit, man, then you started talking about going to rescue Lenore.
"That was my fiancee', she's dead. I got her killed in a car crash. I'll see you later," Mark said in parting.
He walked up the muddy hill and toward Lenny's nearby gravesite.
overlooked the river too, about a mile and half away from where Mark slept last night. There were a few rowers out on the river this morning. Fairmount Cemetery
He approached the grave; someone had recently been there and someone had recently tried digging it up.
"Guess that was me," he said to the grave, beginning to feel the swells of drunken guilt, "I got no idea what we talked about last night, I love you baby; see you in my dreams."
He shoveled some more dirt back onto the gravesite; he got most of it, it was passable.
"I gotta go back to Kurtzville without you."
He walked into Robertas freshly shaven and in a pretty good mood. The same five clowns from yesterday were again there drinking themselves to death today.
"You call in sick?" Bob asked.
"Nope, I just quit. Tossed my fucking badge into the river, like Dirty Fuckin Harry ..."
"No shit, well congratulations welcome to the rank of excop......"
"You are a bunch of pussies!" said the aged and bulky excop lost in the fog of hard liquor, "die whole lot of you, fucking lazy kids, they don't wanna be cops, they want to be criminals-- that's who you kids admire today. They wanna be draft dodgers, I knew your father, I don't know if you knew that or not. I can tell you this for sure, he's ashamed." He feebly slammed his liver spotted fist to the bar for emphasis.
Mark had heard enough from this bastard. The thread in his head snapped and he was across the room in a flash of anger. He seized the loser by the throat with both hands and slammed the bigger man up against the wall, grabbing his vocal cords with two fmgers. He felt them, rubbing them between his index and ring fmger. The thread mended itself, Mark was back watching himself from above: ready to kill an old drunk.
"Shut up, old man," Davidson said, "or your wife'll be cashing your pension checks, spitting on your grave, stead of the other way around, you got that mouth?"
He released the guy from his grip and brushed the old guy's jacket with the classical wise guy swipe before sitting back on his stool, motioning to Bob for a drink. "You got the Inquirer, Bob?"
The traces of his anger were still palatable.
Bob brought the paper up from under the counter and leaned in toward our hero to give him some fatherly advice: "Take it easy, eh, Mark? You might give the old guy a heart attack. He's just an old drunk. He's just an old drunk."
"Sorry, Bob, it won't happen again. I'm getting out of the city for awhile; I'm gonna go back to Kurtzville, I'm going into your business. I'm going to open up an old bar."
He got out Philly as fast as the 64 GTO would take him. Once he got passed the boarded up houses of
Broad Streethe started musing on freedoms and nothing left to lose.
A half hour past the city limits, traffic lightened up a bit and the speed limit turned into 55 miles per ... pedal to the metal baby and the engine's 389 cubic inches got him to a cruising speed of 80 pretty quickly. The cornfields began a few minutes later.
About 40 miles out of
he came across an accident scene; traffic quickly slowed and Mark watched a young volunteer fireman placing flares along the road. He lit a cigarette while he waited. Philadelphia
Psychic flashes of the crash that killed Lenny returned to him but so what, he figured to himself as the goat crawled closer to the cause of the jam, he was also having ('psychic flashes', according to the shrink) visions of himself and his relatives running around half naked on ancient plains, ritualistically slaughtering infants to thank ancient and faceless gods for a couple pounds of hamburger and an extra bushel of wheat.
There were bleeding pigs scattered about the country road, some were trying to escape slaughter by staggering away on broken legs. A lot of desperate squealing.
Then as the Goat crawled on, its engine rumbling with impatience, Mark saw the overturned pig truck that was probably just rounding the curve a bit more quickly than gods allowed it to, thereby creating havoc and a helluva traffic jam.
A state trooper stood off to the side, interviewing the overweight Hispanic truck driver who had already wrapped pieces of his undershirt around his bleeding head. The driver was continually shaking his head as Mark drove by-- finally traffic was moving a bit faster. Mark wondered if the cop bothered asking the guy if he knew what state he was in as he sped up a bit, leaving those folks behind.
About ten miles later he looked at the car's fuel gauge: it may have made it may not have but he was in the country and the crash scene had eaten up a lot of gas. He pulled into the next station to refuel, piss and grab a couple brews from the cooler he kept in the trunk.
Pulling into the old filling station, he spotted the young, teeninsh and plump attendant sitting on an old iron chair under a bare bulb, under which flew about 200 moths. The kid was reading some sort of car magazine.
"Nice car, dude," the kid said sniiling as he walked toward the GTO, "what can we do for you? fill it up, regular?"
" Yep, you guys got a bathroom?"
"Around the side, it's open."
He went inside the men's room, pissed and checked himself in the dirty cracked mirror, splashing water on his stubble ridden face.
A quick scan of the landscape (illuminated by a strong, maybe near full moon) revealed the layout of
: green-rolling hills filled with farins. Thousands of crickets chirped. Lehigh County
"Little late in the year for crickets isn't it?"
"Hadn't thought about it," the kid replied, "but yeah, I guess it is a little late." He shrugged. "You heading up to Jim Thorpe for the race?"
"Nah, I'm going to Kurtzville.
"What the fuck you going there for?"
"I'm going up to see my cousin, I haven't seen her for ten years or so. And, well, I'm opening an old bar back up. Place used to be a speakeasy.
"Yeah, well, that's good for you I guess," the kid said, obviously not liking Mark's choice of locale but remaining friendly enough, "but me? If you ask me I say stay away, cops pull everybody over, for things like driving two or three miles over the speed limit...that kind of crap. You can keep that place."
The gas nozzle snapped, indicating that the tank was near full, the kid pumped some more in. Too much ... some leaked out.
"I used to drive in Kurztville, the older guys told me it wasn't worth it but it's got some good straight roads where a guy can really get some speed going so I didn't pay attention to the stories about witches and devils and such. Last year right, I broke down one night and had to walk back here; man, I heard sounds that night coming out of the woods that I never want to hear again. Roars like a lion might make and people screaming like somebody was trying to murder them.... you know screaming bloody murder."
The kid wiped the windshield quickly and said almost curtly, "twelve bucks."
Mark went to the trunk, opened it and removed a couple beers from the cooler. He gave the kid his Mastercard. "You want a couple beers?" he asked the kid.
He gave the kid four ice cold beers. The kid ran the card through ... it took a few seconds to verify and Mark was back on his way toward the town about which witch and devil rumors had been floating around for a century and a half.
Around , he hit Kurtzville's outskirts. Things pretty much looked the same as they did in 1982 when he was here as a kid; a little town that had shut down for the night. Everything was closed except for the metal foundry, which was banging, clanging and pouring molten steel into huge buckets as Mark drove by.
Instinctively, he drifted over toward the part of the Saucony Creek where he used to have good luck trout fishing.
NO FISHING signs were posted these days; FISH UNSAFE for HUMAN CONSUMPTION.
He decided to head over to the Lincoln Motel before the old lady that ran the place went to bed and had to be awakened.
Main Streetwas filled with now-closed businesses. "Great place to start a business," he muttered to himself before hitting the gas and making those noises that burning tires make as the screech carries through the quiet autumn night.
The old woman who stood (stooped) behind the
's desk had rotting teeth and wore a soiled blue robe. Mark remembered her well from his uncle's congregation but for no other reason than the fact that she was regular at his uncle's Sunday sermons. Tonight she must have been listening to a radio preacher, as that's what was playing in the backroom as Mark walked in. Lincoln
"...and my brothers and sisters," a paternalistic voice cried out, "if we can hold out as brothers and sisters, we could see our way through this dark tunnel and back into the light of prosperity......
"I'd like to check in for the week," Mark requested of the old lady.
"Two hundred," the woman said back to Mark.
"Do I get a discount if I told you I was related to the Reverend Kurtz?"
"Yes, Yes! you are his Nephew, Mark?"
"Yes I am, how'd you remember, how'd you know?"
"Oh, I'm an old country lady. Those are the kinds of thoughts that occur to old country ladies on quiet autumn nights like this. One hundred for the week; good to see you back.
"Feels good to be back."
The woman smiled like it was the best thing she'd ever seen, his coming back to Kurtzville. "Best room in the place," she said, handing the room key to her new guest.
He went to the room briefly, throwing his backpack into the motel room and opening the windows to air it out a little.
Topton is a small town (pop. 2,000) with a small state teachers college (3,000), some sort of candy factory and that's about it; Topton is a town with a little life and a few bars, it was a quick two mile drive from the
. He headed over to the Toad Creek Inn, a place that where he and Maureen had been drinking since they were both 16, the summer after Mark had arrived in Kurtzville. Lincoln
The town was built on a couple hills; a fact he noticed as his car lurched forward before the parking brake took hold. He walked down toward the Toad Creek.
He watched a couple college kids watch one of their buddies puke himself into a state of oblivion in the alley just outside the bar. The place was the same as it was in 84: a fine interior for a bar-- a lot of wood, varnished logs as support beams and walls.
The Toad Creek's owners tried keeping everybody happy: there was a quiet area in the back of the joint where fifteen people could comfortably drink in quiet semi darkness and then there was a place where DJs could run smokemachines, strobe lights and techno music for the college kids. There were a dozen college students dancing and then there were eight guys in the backroom, mostly flannel shirt wearing Jack Daniels tough guy truck pull types drinking and brooding. Soon enough the college kids would be in the backroom, hiding themselves in darkness and drink. Drinking the hard stuff because it's less filling, accepting hell on earth-- staring into their realities of drink.
Yeah, Mark thought to himself while he sipped his Bourbon Presby, soon enough everyone's gonna be drinking back here in the dark; drinking and thinking and remembering mom's explosive dismemberments of herself after she lost it. Soon enough.
Techno rock blared.
"What's happening?" he asked the guy sitting next to him, figuring he was probably a college student: the guy was one of those serious looking Sidney Poitier kind of guys. He was thin about six-foot and wore the glasses that serious black guys were wearing in the sixties and seventies.
"You a student?"
"Nope, why you ask?"
"Yeah, good, you a cop?"
"Good question, I used to be... not no more," Davidson said as nonchalantly as he could. Davidson found the waitress and motioned for her to come over. "Another one of these please and-- you want something else? A little step up maybe?"
"Schmidts is fme," the serious looking guy replied
"Get him a Schmidts."
"Cheers," Mark offered, "you a local?"
"Hey buddy thanks for the beer," the serious black guy offered back. "But if you got
some questions for me officer I would appreciate if you would just ask them. I'll probably answer most of them.
"A little paranoid?"
"Only the paranoid survive, so if you got questions for me I got some questions for you. How do you like those apples?"
"Now hey man, let's wait a second," Mark replied, "I'll back off-, that's fine but I'm not a cop. I was-- in Philly-- I quit that's the end of that story. I moved here today as a matter of fact. I'm opening an old bar, over in Kurtzville, out on 737. Relax. There's no trouble here.
"You're related to those people over there, eh? Well, I got news for you-- they're a bunch of fucking racists, they've been giving me a lot of fucking grief the past couple days. "
"I had my problems with them in the past, take my word on that, I don't like em much. Except for my cousin, her and me we had little thing going back about years ago. I lived up here after my mom blew her head off. I left, went to college became a cop after that because it was the easy thing to do; I got my girlfriend killed in a car accident last year. I drink like a fish. Here I am.
"I'm here because I thought my brother was here. My wife kicked me out because I'm a drunk and I figured I'd come stay with my brother for a couple weeks. Last I knew he was here making a documentary on the Mennonites and their use of 19th century farming methods. You know, I get here and start asking those idiots over in Kurtzville whether they had recently seen a black guy who looked like me with a camera making a little movie. 'Nope, ' 'can't say I have,' that kind of backwoods ass country bullshit."
"Your brother sounds like an interesting guy. Problem is that I really don't know what the fuck I'm going to do after tonight, I can't find my brother, I'm sleeping on some cat's farm-- back behind the treeline so the fucker won't see me.
"Well, what's your name?"
"I'm Mark Davidson and the bar I'm opening up needs some work; have you ever done any contracting or construction kinda stuff?"
"Yeah, full time for more than a decade."
"Well, you seem nice and competent you're hired if you want a job. You can live out at the site if you want."
"I'm not a real big fan of the locale; I wish I could turn you down but I can't. You got money to pay me?"
"My uncle's estate left a pretty big trust. The stipulation is that the trust is to lend me reasonable sums of money for the purpose of reconstruction. Apparently, it's broadly worded to allow me to get the thing up and going with as little fincial difficulty as is possible. It's supposed to be a big trust though the terms of the trust require that its size be kept a secret. "
"Hmm ... sounds like the cup is running over my man. Cheers. Maybe momma was right, there's a Jesus after all."
"You can stay in my motel room if you want tonight; it's supposed to rain. Tonight we get drunk; tomorrow we begin rebuilding the Improper."
Like he told the shrink-- every night, he was dreaming hard.
Tonight he's back at the scene of the accidental crash that killed Lenore. There's Lenny's corpse-- some sort of piglike creature with fangs is eating from where her face is supposed to be. What must be some sort of creature that lives under the surface of the pond throws its tentacles out of the water and wrap themselves around the pig, pulling the creature into the water. The pond almost stills with cahnness. Whatever's in the water, it's eaten the pig because it then hurls the fanged creature's carcass out of the water in front of Mark's feet.
Mark looks over at the side of the hill-- there's a door built into the hill. Someone is groaning from behind that door. A bunch of people are chanting.
His mother shows up in his dreams again. she is fat and naked and mentally ill; he can tell by the trancelike state she's in, waving those flabby arms around, begging Mark for a hug. "Tell momma you love her," she says before she blows her head off with the sawed off shotgun that she picks up from the side of the road.
A fat, slovenly dressed priest hurries across the road on his way to something interesting at the bottom of the hill, toward the Reverend Kurtz's Church which has been boarded up for almost twelve years now.
Momma's and Lenny's headless corpses are lying on the road twitching. The tentacled creature pulls the corpses into the pond and doesn't return them to the surface.
Someone is playing ancient drums in the forest behind him.
He pulls his revolver from his pants and pulls the trigger, emptying the chamber into the pond but nothing happens except one or two of the bullets ricochet around a bit after bouncing off the water's surface.
COME BACK TO US MARK, the chant from behind that door on the hill goes. COME BACK TO US MARK, BRING US BACK MARK.
He looks around the forest landscape for the people (or demons?) chanting or the drum player(s)? The result of the demon chant was beautiful and familiar. They must have been playing on the ancient and hollow logs that dot the Appalachian forests' landscapes. He walks toward the source of the beat, toward the top of the hill that could almost double for a small mountain. Reaching the top he finds he finds the stone altar that's covered in moss.
A sniiling and naked infant lies on the altar. And a sacrificial blade.
"No! " he screams and runs away, down the hill. Out of the dream.
Mark awoke briefly at five o' clock and listened to the rain beat down on the
's roof. At the same time Mark was coming out of his dream, a familiar looking fat priest was hiding in the shadows of the ruined Lincoln , of which only half the structure still stood. Kurtz Church
At the same titne his victim was moving toward the church's ruins-- that stood in the middle of his paper route-- where he hid his cigarettes. His father was a certain Kurtzville attorney who we will meet shortly.
Every morning, he was able to hold off the craving until he was just about done his deliveries. His father was an evil man who does work for the devil; that was why young first bom Johnny Binder had been targeted by 44 shadowy judges
Johnny hid his bike behind the part of the church's iron gate which still stood. He enjoyed his smoke, listening to the birds chirp around him; he failed to notice the reason why the birds' chirping had grown more frantic. A demon in black was sneaking up behind him with an ironic and silent agility. Johnny didn't see Kurtzville's demons scurrying around the forest, powerless to protect him.
This was Johnny's last day as a paper boy and he was about to die. His painful death was moments away from being just another volley in an ancient war between competing and decaying churches.
None of this occurred to him as he sat against one of the remaining church walls. The demon silently glided in right next to him.
My little lover, come to me and die, the voices inside his head said to him as he struggled with the dim idea that this was wrong. He waited for Johnny to finish his cigarette before speaking.
"You know what kind of boys smoke, Johnny?"
"No Reverend. "
"That's Father Johnny."
And the painful exorcism began. "May the power of Christ compel the demon from inside you. "
He throws the kid against the wall, repeating "May the power of Christ compel Satan from inside you. Come out you sneaky bastard, come out and show yourself......
Our point of view must end here, it's too hard to take; c' mon let's get back inside Davidson's head, this stuff is way too hard to watch. But we hear little Johnny's body being tossed away as we fly out of the churchyard backwards.
The priest, we see from back here in the woods, has built a funeral pyre from the twigs and logs that are laying around everywhere. He lights the kid's corpse on fire and savors the stench. It makes us sick, doesn't it? Doesn't it?
"You little bastard," the fat priest bellows, "there is but one god!
He walked away with a limp. The Lord told him to head back to Kurtzville and await her instructions.
Road, visions of unnatural crucifixions danced in his head. All the voices she gave you inside your head, one of the voices said to him as he walked toward town in an automatized state, all those voices and the Lord; why, she's given me no choices. Old Kurtz Church
Still on Old Church Road he passed by the house that had been the last house the kid was gomg to deliver to; he tossed the paper-- quite a bit of blood stained the front page but avoiding detection was not part of Father Molester's plan.
The old lady who always sat in her bedroom window saw the man throw the paper onto her porch, she knew something dreadful had happened and Father Molester knew that she had seen him. Somebody's always watching, his father used to say to him, somebody's always watching.
Mark awoke ten minutes after Johnny was killed at the church. Mark showered hot (trying to wash off the creeping uneasiness that was beginning to surround his waking moments just after dreamtime) and he thought about the way the shrink told him this kind of a day was one he could call the first day of the rest of his life.
"You still sleeping?" he asked Dennis, razzing him bit.
"Forget the boot camp cop stuff, brother, I'm hung over; I ain't used to that self destructive cop drinking bullshit. I sleep my hangovers off. Why you up so early?"
"I'm going to meet my uncle's lawyer to sign some paperwork."
"Sure, I make a left out of here and follow 737 for about a mile and half.?"
"See you later."
"Do me a favor, turn off that tv."
Mark turned off the tv and walked out the door, darkening the motel room.
Main Streethad more business bustling today than it did last night when he pulled in; he walked inside Maureen's store.
It was a small cramped store, few pieces in the store were walking out the door with less than two hundred bucks going into Maureen's pocket and it didn't take long for Mark to start finding three and four thousand dollar pieces. Presumably upon hearing the bell Maureen walked from the small backroom, flashing him a smile that warmed him up right quick.
He was home.
"I'm glad you're here," she said to Mark. "Looking a little wom out but I'm definitely glad you're here. "
That warm sensation was lingering. "I'm glad to be here. I need a new career."
"Something a bit more mellow. Eh? "
"I hear you pal. What are Your plans for the rest of the day?
"I'm going to meet your dad's lawyer and then I hope to inspect the place a bit. I hired a guy last night.
"Oh, yeah, local guy?"
"I met him over at the Toad Creek. The guy seems trustworthy enough. I'm going to meet him over at the bar around two, take a look around to see where we'll begin work. We're going to have a few beers if you or you and Lloyd would like to meet us for a few..."
"Maybe I will, Lloyd's been busy lately and that's just fine with me. How about you go and meet Binder, get that paper signing over with and I'll meet you over at The Improper in a couple hours?"
"How bout fishing? Is there any decent fishing left around here?"
"Oh, I guess if you drive about twenty miles up stream, above Allied Battery, I'd say the fish are safe to eat that far upstream. The big problem around here lately's been rabies. Lloyd's shot a bunch of rabid raccoons around here these past couple months; if you see slow moving raccoons in the daytime... shoot em.
Me love you long time, Me love you long time... Me love you long time... an asian chick on the radio sang the rap song built from sampling that kept repeating itself on the Goat's radio as Mark was pulled into the Improper's gravel parking lot.
He noticed immediately that the roadhouse would do a good patio business: the view was beautiful--the entire valley was gonna be positively mystical at sunrise and sunset. It was time again to open the Improper in order for it to sell its particular brands of down home country A couple beers watching the sun rise at six a.m was going to be pleasant; a real alcoholic fantasy, he thought to himself as he parked the car.
As he walked from his car toward the old inn, he looked up at the top floor corner window that provided a view of
. Hawk Mountain
Binder's Astrovan was parked in the bar's lot, there was an angry looking pit bull pacing back and forth in the rear caged portion of the van-- the dog's mouth foamed with rabies. Mark figured Binder must've been inside doing something. He admiringly glanced out over the view of the
just before he poked his head inside, calling "Binder, Ernie Binder are you here?" Lehigh Valley
"Yeah, yeah I'm upstairs and I'm on my way down," called out a voice that started out disembodied but by the time he finished the sentence, Binder was walking down the steps that led one from the hotel portion of the Improper to the tavern part of the building. "A lot of Kurtzville's children were made upstairs," he commented amicably as he carried down a small plastic bag filled with some sort of rubbish. "Rubbers," Binder said, "I was using this as a fuckpad while it stood unused. I guess those days are over. 'Sae La Vie."'
"Oh well, times change."
"I saw you at your uncle's fimeral and I meant to introduce myself to you but just like that, you were gone."
"Yeah, it was reminding me too much of my fiancee's funeral. I left and took off on the road for a three week bender. When I got back, the captain wanted to put me in rehab or fire me. I asked him to suspend me for a week which he did and I finished off that drunk."
"Good, good, you made a good choice. This place was an excellent location for this sort of business and with most of the surrounding towns turning into those yuppie latte towns that are so fashionable these days, it looks like this is good ground for a bar or roadhouse to open again. But I'm afraid it will have to be a short one, I have a lot of work to take care of today. We can take care of the paperwork at the county office anytime; let me show you around your inheritance."
"If it's the dog you're worrying about, I can shoot the dog for you," he said, pulling his pistol from his pants."
"Can't chance it getting away, big parts of
's woods are filled with crazy animals." Beck County
"Maureen's told me about the rabies (pause) and the fishing and I heard some guys in the bar the other night talking about crop rot, but only in
. Is that why uncle left me the place... because he coudn't sell it?" Beck County
"Quite contrary, he thought a man with your leadership qualities is the kind of guy that could bring life back to this area" Yep, out here one guy can still make a bit of a difference."
"You ready for a beer?"
Mark reached into the cooler (which we know is always stocked full of beer) and pulled out half a six pack.
"No thanks, I haven't had a drink in six years. Stuff began driving me crazy, you know beatin' the wife and all but that was before your uncle and his church came into my life.
could handle his liquor boy. Did you know he was a real bigshot bootlegger back in the day?" Eugene
"I know a little bit about the story."
"He liked brewing it, he liked selling it and boy did he like drinking it. I'm sure you'll find all kinds of bootlegging evidence up on the mountain. Back in the 50s, when the church was really active, a bunch of academics were criticizing your uncle's philosophies-- saying the only thing his religion had in common with Christianity was its thirst for drink. C' mon, let's go inside."
The pit bull watched them go inside. They entered through the basement. She closed her eyes, a long sleep was near. She wanted to move on; she needed to get away from this diseased portion of the earth. As her mind hovered in a fog, it sensed the demons who were lurking about Kurtzville. The demons were watching her, they were masquerading as the huge flies that were flying around her, waiting to devour her bacterial soul.
MANSON LIVES was spraypainted on the first wall Mark looked at as he walked into the linproper's basement. The place was bright. He innnediately noticed another passageway toward the back of the cellar; it was covered by cement. But it could be little else, he figured, but a doorway-- about the size of a garage door. It was probably bricked behind the cement.
"What's behind there?"
"That's a bootlegging tumel," Binder answered as a matter of factly. "Your uncle used it back in his bad old prohibition days, he based the Mmels on the Cat'lics catacombs; they run for hundreds of yards back in the hills in a bunch of different directions. He used to brew the stuff up in the hills and either transport it with the tunnels or float them down the creek. Even after prohibition was repealed he avoided taxes by sneaking the stuff around the same way. He had them cemented in the early 70s after the same hippy clowns who painted the Manson stuff were here. They were doing all sorts of unclean stuff back in the tunnels."
"I wasn't around for the disappearances of those hippy kids, what do you think happened to them?"
"I wasn't here for that either; that case was handled by my father. I was drinking beers in a frat house when all that went down What I can tell you is that some hippy kids from Topton U. were hanging out, camping, right around here for the summer, getting back to nature and such-- a couple of them saying real loud that they had a right to do so and such. One night they disappeared, the four of them. It was a classic case of no witnesses, nobody had seen anyone last; they'd been in these hills for a month before they disappeared-- no one knows if it was day or night..."
"Except for the people who did it," Binder parroted back. "Anyway,they were a little loud but Eugene and Grenden didn't really care; they said it reminded them of the Jazz Age and all the bra-less fucking that was going on then. Just a lot more different drugs around to find your way. Authorities hardly questioned them at all about that disappearance, that is once they were satisfied that there was no motive. They weren't bad kids, they all felt real bad bout what happened to the kids; a lot of the talk round here was that the kids took off for the west or alaska or something like that.... guess we'll never know... "
"Except the people who did it."
"Whoever did it knows. Not that I really care one way or the other about what happened to some hippies almost 30 years ago."
They walked up rotting stairs into the main tap room.
The upstairs, what was to be the soul of the business, was much brighter, much more cheerful. Especially after our hero ripped down the tattered shades that hung on all the windows kicking up a lot of dust and letting in a ton of light.
"Little dustier but more cheerful, where's the mirror?" he asked Binder. The mirror that was supposed to be dominated the background by its absence.
"It's over in the Historical Society's basement, your uncle removed it when the hippy kids came around."
"We got to get that mirror back here."
Mark looked out the window and saw the Historical Society's 150 year old building. A geographical triangle was formed, he saw for the first time, by the Improper, the old half- standing Kurtz church and the Historical Society. The Society's building was a victorian style mansion that sat in the middle of the abandoned and the barren Kurtz Farm. The field was brown (and overrun with thick vinelike weeds) and had an old graveyard in the middle of it. The building itself gave off the immediate appearance of gray and chipped paint; the iron fence that surrounded the mansion's curtilage was rusty and stood crooked as one's eye followed it around.
"You sure my uncle didn't leave me that too?"
"That belongs to the trust, the terms of which are secret but you never know, maybe say a prayer......"
"I'll keep hoping."
"You want to see the second floor?"
They walked up rotting stairs into the main tap room.
They went upstairs to what formerly doubled as an eight room hotel. Some of the old beds with iron box springs were still there.
"Well, that's it," Binder said.
"I accept, thanks."
A few moments later Binder and the dog were on their way to the death chamber and Mark was on his way to see Maureen.
The roads winded something fierce around here but the curves were wide enough that you could fishtail and still manage to avoid tumbling off. This was the first time he really wanted a woman since he killed Lenny and, man, he wanted Maureen again. He knew that. He knew she felt it too; it hit them both hard back at the antique store.
When he got there he saw no one was home as promised. The key was under the lion statue, just like Maureen said.
The living room bar was well stocked. Just like her father had kept it. He made himself a Bourbon Presby and stared into the erppty (save for the iron log rack) fireplace.
About an hour later, Maureen pulled her Bronco into her driveway. She entered the house and was a sight for the sorest of eyes. She kissed him; this time she lingered and played. "I missed you Mark," back to lingering before it went French. It was becoming increasingly clear: once again Mark Davidson and Maureen Kurtz were holding themselves out as kissing cousins.
"I missed you too," he replied.
She broke away to make herself a drink. "How's yours?" she asked.
"Fine," he said watching her fix her favorite: gin and tonic. He went to her and they embraced. They kissed and caressed like they taught each other how to back in the day. Consummation took place on the living room floor.
"I want to lay with you all day," Mark said to her.
"I know what you mean but someone might come by; Lloyd's at some kind of narcotics seminar in
but there's still a number of people who don't know the church was shut down upon my father's death who might decide to stop by and chat." Harrisburg
He was on his way to the Improper when he bolted off the exit next to the Lincoln Motel
stood so he could make a quick call to his former partner, Gillespie. The parking lot was still
empty. There was someone knocking on Mrs. Kutz's office door; it was a fat priest who was probably looking for a room Mark thought to himself. He quickly tried to unconcern himself about what the guy was up to.
"Tourist season must be over," he mumbled to himself.
Mark's room was six rooms down from the owner's office, a slight breeze carried the heavy stench of gasoline.
"Looking for a room, Father?" Mark asked politely. "Uh, Mrs. Kutz, there's a man out here looking for a room."
The man looked up from the door he was knocking on with a pair of the emptiest, blackest eyes Mark had ever seen.
"You break down Father? You need some help with your car?"
The guy shook his head, "No car, no car, no car..."
"Uh, Mr. Kurz, are you in there?"
"Tell him to go into town and talk to Grenden," called Mrs. AKtz Is voice from her office/home, "down at West Side Variety, he'll be able to give him a room. There's renovations going on here."
"Well, there you go buddy.
The guy grunted what sounded like a thank you and walked away. Mark went into his room, closed the door behind him and watched through the curtain as the guy walked down the road. Davidson grabbed his army jacket and some work tools.
He took off out of the parking lot, wondering if the guy who smelled like gasoline had gotten into town.
"My brother was here alright," were the first angry words out of Dennis's mouth as Mark neared the Improper's entrance.
He was more than half-drunk, maybe a dangerous state of mind to be in this town where people occasionally disappear.
"Are you a little drunk?"
"Yeah, I'm a little drunk. I had seven or eight beers. I'm all drunked up yeah well that's too bad. Let me tell you another thing: I was a little drunk when I took a walk through town a few hours ago. That asshole who, runs the variety store in slipped a few questions as to my 'business' in town. Anyway that ancient-looking prick starts with the 'how's it going routine' with some kind of tucked up sounding German accent. 'How's it going?" he asked, his voice dripping with suspicion. Tilting his head like this," he said tilting his head. Like the way an old lady does when she wants you to know she's not going to believe a word you say. I tell him things are going fine... "
"Grenden," Mark said interrupting, "the old guy's name's Grenden. I know who he is. He wa"s
's sheriff for forty years or so. Good friend of my uncle's. I've always thought he was an asshole. Another stupid authoritarian type. Quite frankly I think him and my uncle both were capable of killing or otherwise making people disappear but, as an investigator I know the value of hanging back and watching what develops (pause) for a little while at least." Beck County
"So this Grenden character starts asking me what I did for a living; I proudly told him I worked for you and he tried lightening up his attitude but I saw him trembling...
"Could be Parkinson's... "
"I figure I'll try taking advantage of Grenden's good nature and ask him a question or two; I pulled my brother's picture from my wallet and I ask him if he'd ever seen Ray. The guy said no and that's all I needed to know that he was a liar. Ray was-- is-- a newspaper freak and I know goddamned well he would've bought papers and lottery numbers at least a couple times. 'Hard to tell with so many people coming into town for the antique shows and all, who knows.' That kind of crap. I knew I had my answer right then, just intuition thing, my brother looks like me, that mutha fucker looked like he just saw a ghost. Ray was here. I know that now."
Davidson silently considered Dennis's version of the facts; he knew damn well that the guy had pieced together a half decent scenario, particularly coupled with Mark's knowledge of Eugene's and Grenden's almost alleged prior bad acts of 12 and 30 years ago. "My cousin invited me and you to dinner, you want to go?"
"What's she cooking?"
"Sounds good to me, I'm a little interested in meeting your cousin."
"Oh, I don't know, I'm betting that your brother is around here somewhere. We'll turn something up. These folks round here might be a little like our southern brothers but I'm pretty sure I remember my uncle telling me that they stopped lynching people around here before the First Civil War. And they were generally witchcraft executions, not racial stuff. Apparently a witch was bumed in kville aroud 1650 or so,"he said, pointing to the Historical Society. "Burned by her relatives."
"Speaking of witches," Dennis said, "I called my wife this morning. She wants nothing to do with me except for me signing a separation agreement; she let me charge a call to what's soon to be her house through to Penn State. They told me they haven't heard from my brother in a month and a half; the people in the anthro department are getting a little worried. The secretary told me that they're beginning to think about looking for a replacement for him for next semester. He's supposed to teach a class."
"Have you voiced your suspicions to anyone?"
"That's probably good."
Mark thought that this place had probably followed the formerly time honored tradition that includes driving the undesirables to the edge of town with instructions to keep on walking. But kill the undesirable? The anecdotal evidence was beginning to build up; underneath that thinnest of sheens-- hope and bad reasoning-- Mark knew in his soul that murder was indeed possible round here.
They both sat and started drinking beers. "We'll get to work on this dump tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me."
"We'll find your brother."
It was just after dark when they pulled into Maureen's driveway; it looked like the whole gang was here. Lloyd's black sheriff's Bronco was parked in the driveway and so was Binder's Astrovan. Maureen rushed out of the house and toward the two men as they walked to the entrance.
"There's been a murder ... Tommy Binder's son's been found dead mutilated and burned out by my father's old church. They took the corpse to
to be examined but it was the most horrible thing I've ever seen." Reading
(Terror's been following you around lately bro....)
"How bout your friend, Mark?" called the old man's familiar and gravelly voice. An old small and worried looking man stepped from the shadows. Grenden used to be Sheriff Grenden when Mark was up here for his forced visit. He'd always given Mark the creeps. Maybe it was the way he opened his mouth: like a lion baring his teeth. Thing was, when he opened his mouth all he really showed off was an old mouth that had maybe two or three teeth left. He looked the same as he did 15 years ago, like he was living on time borrowed from someone. "Your friend got a place he can pin himself to this morning?"
"Oh man! What the fuck!" Dennis exclaimed, pacing about nervously until it started looking frantic. Mark thought for a second that he was going to run. "Natural, very fticking natural, this bullshit around here never ends!"
"He was with me until I left the motel at "
"Then that settles that," Grenden said, "No big deal. Lloyd and I got a child murderer running around our county so I ask a stranger who's living in the woods what he was doing at the time of the murders, Mark. Is that unreasonable, Mark? Even if it's an old, outdated sheriff doing the questioning?"
Lloyd and Binder came out of the house and joined everyone on the stone porch in front of the house. Binder nodded a greeting Mark's way. The harvest moon rose behind the fantastic looking line of oak trees that surrounded the Kurtz property. Lloyd was obviously in over his head, Mark thought to himself, but Grenden was a shrewd violent man; this was his ballpark. Grenden was in his element: taking care things around here.
"Any suspects?" Mark asked, "any ids?"
"A few leads," Grenden said, "you see any strange looking folks in town, Mark?"
"I sure did," he replied, "a fat guy dressed as a priest, smelled like gasoline."
"Well, we got him sitting down at the station if you're interested in helping us; do you want to question him a little. Lloyd will deputize you right here and we'll have you back here in an hour and a half. "
"No, I'm done with that sort of crap. I'm sorry but my job is pouring beers.
"Very well, no problem. Your response was expected but I figured I'd give it a try anyway," Grenden said. "Alright gang, let's go we got some work to do over at State Police headquarters. "
Grenden, Lloyd and a weeping Binder got into Lloyd's Bronco and took off.
"I burned the chicken with all this going on. I know, how metaphoric but it's still edible. Or we can go get a pizza. "
The three of them ate.
"Like manna from Heaven," Dennis said, "this is the best meal I've had in a month."
It was quiet, dead kids can damper conversation apparently.
This chapter concludes with:
What are you doing after you're done here?" Mark asked Maureen who was stacking dishes by the sink while Dennis was in the other room listening to the radio. "Me and Dennis were heading over to the Improper, you interested?"
"With Lloyd in town, I should hang out here. How bout tomorrow?"
"Sounds good. "
"Say, eh, Maureen my buddy Dennis out there is looking for his brother, that's the main reason he's here. You ever see this guy?" he asked, pulling out Ray MacPherson's photo.
"He would've been around here with a video camera," Mark offered, hoping to jog her memory.
"Never saw him."
The drive to the Toad Creek was a silent meditation.
The Toad Creek was quiet but maybe it would pick up. The bartender was a man in his early 20s; he looked like a college student the way he was studying and talking on the phone, occasionally going to the trouble of serving one of the bar's five customers a cheap beer or drink.
There were three rough looking types from over the foundry drinking after work beers. Grease and dirt covered their faces; the result of a hard day's worth of doing whatever these types do to make coin, probably work at a lumber mill or something. Exterminate the fucking brutes.
Dennis drank one beer before deciding he'd had enough for the night. Mark was glad to hear it: Dennis would be in better working condition than he was going to be. Tomorrow they were supposed to measure the rooms and start tearing stuff out. The Improper was only a mile away, no big walk. Dennis covered his glass with a goodbye napkin and walked out the door. The door swung shut, Mark ordered another Bourbon Presby and began to brood.
He thought about calling Maureen but as usual he was thinking about Lenny.
The brighter part of the bar was still empty. He was drunk, the blue collars were drunk and an old, fat farmer had come in and sat down next to him. He was drinking glass after glass of cheap tap beer, always ordering a Presby for Mark when he ordered himself a beer. Mark was trying his full blown alcoholic best to keep up with the guy but the guy was still a drink ahead of him. No matter how hard he drank.
The guy muttered to himself in a Parkinson's fit every once in a while; Mark sat there tipping his bourbon glass to and fro. He balanced it with his index finger before he let it go, watching it crash to the bar. It went down in slo mo, as if gravity lessened around here. The tip of the glass broke off upon contact, causing the bartender to look up from his phone conversation.
Mark looked at him-- in the eyes. That's key he learned during that 62 day bender he went on after Lenny's death; you gotta look the bartender straight in the eyes, especially when the barkkeper knows that you had one or twenty too many. Like the ref in a boxing mismatch, the barkeep's looking for some kind of response in the chump fighter's eyes. You got to have some life left in those eyes. You got to have some life left in those eyes or the fun's over for the night. "You guy's got a clock in here?" Davidson asked.
The bartender ignored him, wiping up the liquor that ran across the bar.
"Sorry," Mark repeated, "you guys got a clock in here?"
The condescending bastard was doing his best to ignore him. A smart ass smirk was written all over his face. This guy didn't feel like putting up with any sloppy burnt out drunks tonight. The three blue collars were eyeing him up from across the bar, like they were thinking about rolling him in the alley. It was up to the old muttering fanner; he was the only fight judge left that was even going to think about letting this one continue.
"Excuse me," Mark said, addressing the old man; careful drunken courtesy spilled from his lips. "Excuse me buddy, you know what time it is?" Liquor's beautiful brain effect had kicked in again.
(you gotta understand barkeep, ; have evil dreams that tell me i am an evil person. you gotta understand I'm getting scared to sleep, my dreams tell me things. just let me sit here, the shit won't get too deep; I'll be good. i gotta do some thinkin'; let me stay, let me stay and do some thinking and drinking; i just wanna sit here and think and drink. i promise i'll be no more trouble)
"Sir, do you know what time it is?"
That must have been the ftmniest question the guy had heard in a long time because the guy looked up from his beer and smiled the most beatific smile Mark had ever seen. Then the guy broke into a loud celebratory song.
While singing, the old man began showing off his SteamMachine Mouse watch; it was an old rusting thing. He stopped singing; "My boy, my boy," the old farmer said, "this watch stopped the day my sweetheart died. It's a piece of junk, I won it at a movie theater in the 20s; my beautiful wife died in the 30s and I never remarried. It's a piece of junk really, it helps me remember better times. I don't remember the beginning of this conversation. I don't remember picnics with my baby. Age is robbing me of all my memories. I only have a future and the present, which I quickly forget ... you know what I mean?"
This was a touching moment, the kind of moment that screamed out for a toast- It was time for a Benedictine & Brandy (tm) toast.
"A round for the house!" he screamed out, "some ambrosia even for the brutes across the bar! Barkeep, we need some B&B!"
He leapt off his stool like a celebratory madman.
"Sorry, man, can't serve you; you've been too tucked up to drive for awhile now; now you're just too fucked up. Okay?"
"Okay, yeah okay," Mark said, looking over at the old man who was now crying, his face bright red as were his bloodshot crying eyes.
And the moment of drunken clarity revealed itself at last:
(welcome back mark. welcome home. he listened to the congregation's choir sing ancient chant. it came from inside him. a chill crawled up his spine)
"Hey, man, you think I'm too fucked up? They're thinking about stopping the fight." He leaned in toward the old man, putting his hand on his shoulder. "Do you think I'm too fucked up? If you do," he said, appealing to his new friend, "they'll likely stop the fight."
" Yo man!" yelled one of the foundry workers, "leave him the fuck alone! Or you're gonna get your ass kicked. "
"Oh yeah," Mark slurred, "what the fuck are you going to do about it?" He started toward the guy then quickly ducked under the bar, moving toward the expensive stuff. He went to the top shelf and grabbed the B&B, splashing a couple quick shots into his mouth. The bar lights mixed with the liquor that had gotten into his eyes; he was gagging a little from the first sip. The second gulp went down like paradise was involved.
The foundry guys had had enough of this clown and they were off their stools moving toward Mark. That's when Mark pulled out his pistol and pointed it at the little gang. "Don't worry, it only goes off when I want it too. " He kept the gun pointed at the guy and took another swig of the sweet liquor then decided he'd better buy it.
He threw four twenties on the bar for the liquor. "And for your troubles barkeep; come to think about it buy the bright boys a couple, the good stuff. G' night old man.
"Night!" the old man replied, smiling.
Mark backed out the front door (but not before taking a last look around; even this hammered he knew he was 86'd at least for "awhile"); his gun was still drawn.
Once he was outside and quickly walking toward the Goat, he put the gun back in his pants. He got into the car and quickly took off, heading into the woods. Who are you kidding, pal, he thought to himself, stunts like this get you 86'd forever.
He drove on the dark roads, screaming into the night. "Oh yeah old man oh yeah!" He drove rough and was banging up the car quite a bit as he took the turns way too fast.
He sprayed sparks every time he hit a bump or dip, only flooring it in response-- taking those bumps and dips as hard as he could. It was one of the best drunken rides he'd ever taken. He must've been capable of blowing a .25. Hit the fucking road Jack!
And the old half standing Kurtz church came upon him as he rounded a turn. It was a good place to stop-- theturns were getting tougher and tougher to take. The B&B was beginning to hit him hard and the adrenaline was draining (used!) from his system. It was real quiet here; the moon passed through the clouds.
He lit a smoke and looked around at the crime scene tape that bordered the property.
"Mark? Is that you Mark?" called a vaguely familiar voice from the shadows. It was Uncle Eugene's voice, almost. "Come back here, I won't harm you," the voice called from inside the treeline. "I can't come out, it's an agreement. Once one of us shows ourselves in your world, the Revelations Wars are guaranteed to begin. Nobody wants that, not yet. I sat here today and listened to that freak torture and kill that boy in the name of one God. There's nothing we can do; if the wars started tomorrow, we'd be crushed in 6 months. I listened to what that Cat'lic maniac did to Tommy's poor boy after he was dead and could do nothing. That's what the Cat'lics are about?"
"What in the hell are the Revelations Wars?"
"The dead come back for starters. But the time is not ripe to talk too much about that. Your job is to enjoy your life, enjoy Maureen's company. Go inside the church and listen. We'll meet again; come back here 20 years from tonight come back and look for me. Don't waste your time before that. Don't concern yourself with the murder of my lawyer's boy-- It's being taken care of. Goodbye, Mark. Tell Maureen I love her."
He walked into what was left of the church and sat in one of the'rotting pews-- sipping from the B&B bottle. Uncle Eugene's speeches and sermons begin echoing and reverberating. Sermons and the sounds of a 70 pound boy (or maybe a sack of potatoes) being tossed around the church.
Uncle Eugene's echoing voice: "We now find ourselves riding wave upon wave of blood infected with incurable diseases. This is our punishmentt. We must repent by sending back our purest, our youngest. But our sacrificial lambs have grown malignant and diseased and they have sickened our lord. Long live our lord who shall return. She shall return and our land will breathe once again!
And then the voices begot (intercut with Mark "touching" the scene of the crime, utilizing his gift): "You know what kind of boys smoke cigarettes, Johnny?"
"That's father Johnny."
Mark felt himself heading toward the world of the passout so he took another sip of ambrosia. He stood up and looked at the broken altar, offering the Sacred One a toast.
"Thank you Uncle Eugene. Thank you for the bar and thank you for your daughter." He
He stumbled backward, twisting his ankle and losing his balance.
He slammed his head against a pew and it all faded to black after an explosion of blue.
(FADE INTO): A few hours later, he was sitting in the back of a sheriff's car. "Hey fuckhead, " John Wyandt, Lloyd's deputy, said, "hey fuckhead, are you alive?
"Yeah," Mark replied, his mouth foul and dry with liquor, "where's my car?"
"We'll get it tomorrow. It's safe. Nobody comes back here much, if you know what I mean. You know what I mean don't you Mark? Maybe it's time to grow up, eh?"
"You taking me home? Are you taking me to the
"I'm taking you to the station where there's a nice bed waiting, for you. You're spending the night there; you pulled a gun on a small crowd--that's reckless endangen-nent. Fucking around with a crime scene, who knows what that'll get you around here. Let's say you're lucky you're family. "
"I had clearance."
Mark woke up when Wyandt came into the cell.
"I forgot something," Wyandt said to Mark. "Maureen called and told me you were real prone
to suicide and such. Throw me the shoes."
"She said that?"
"She cares bout you. Me? I think you're an asshole but to each his own. Blood runs thicker than water; blah blah blah. Throw me the shoes.
"What? You think I'd hang myself?"
Wyandt finished and left the cell. Mark slumped backward and stared at the photos that
adomed the office's walls. Mostly they were black and whites taken of the days of Kurtzville gone by.
Lotof picnics put on by the foundry. Mostly.
To night's REM clue was similar but this time he was barreling along a straight rural road that was very wintry in character. The roadside is dotted with trees every twenty yards or so. Snow dots the landscape.The woman sitting next to him is wearing black lace, including a veil. She knits a pair of pink boooties. There is a thump, something red splashes onto the windshield and the car careens out of control. Lack of gravity takes over and the car flies away. Then the car plummets back earthward and smashes into a tree. All is still for a moment. A baby cries in the distance and then fades out.
Mark was trapped in the car, some of the tree had burst through the windshield and then gone through his stomach, finally getting stuck to the car seat. The woman passengers' face had been torn off revealing half a skeleton. Her arms show that she was an old woman, flesh hung loosely from her arms. But what's left of "her" is still trying to knit the baby booties until her bones creak to a standstill. Mark slumps. He looks to his gut and sees his insides spilling out. His innards steam in the wintry air. Some guy was calling an old football game on the radio. He's trying to move but he's not going anywhere. A sad looking old farmer is taking pictures of the wreck, his
th turns to steam, the flashes of his camera illuminate the gray sky. brea
He awoke. Wyandt was asleep, his feet propped up on the desk. The quiet static of a slow night came over the radio. He focused his attention on a small group of photos that hung on the wall; they were photos of a wreck on the highway. There was the dead faceless woman from his dream. And there was a dead man in the front seat, his insides spilling out. The guy looked a lot like himself, Mark noticed.
"Cheer up, Johnny," Mark whispered-- mostly to himself, "you are a very important person around here."
Maureen walked into the
sheriff s station around to the Beck County
cell where Mark slept.
"I didn't want to leave the house in the middle of the night or else I would have come earlier. You want to go fishing?"
On the way out the front door, Wyandt handed Mark his shoelaces.
"You want to get your car?" she asked as she started her Bronco.
"It can wait."
." Destination Hawk Mountain
She floored the jeep out of the gravel lot and headed toward mountain that loomed in the foreground.
They parked the truck and hiked up the stream, towing their gear.
"This is what it's all about," she said to Mark in passing as they hiked past a miniature spring that poured cold and fast from somewhere inside the mountain.
Playftilly, she tossed a couple handfuls at Mark, who was off somewhere else-- lost in his thoughts.
Cut to: The two of them engaged in some serious outdoor lovemaking just next to that gushing spring.
When they were finished with each other, they left the treeline and went out and sat on
the little plateau that overlooked the
. Lehigh Valley
"Now maybe we should catch a fish or two."
"If there are any left," Mark said as they came upon the part of the Saucony where they were going to fish, "shit when I was here in 81 about the only thing besides you that I really, really liked was the fishing."
"Well, after that battery acid started seeping out of the mountain and into the creek the fish were hit pretty hard for quite a few years......
"I read a lot about it when I was at
. Penn State
"It's nice to know you didn't forget about us completely. You could have answered a letter or two...."
"It was a mistake; I was young I didn't like living with your father and the rest of the assholes that run this town ... I always loved you though. "
And their brand of trout fishing in
began; their flyfishing rhythm were remarkably similar and the motions seemed to create a little bit ofmystic hypnotism in them both. They smiled. America
After about thirty casts apiece, Maureen hooked a fish-- her rod dipped sharply. A sizeable Rainbow-- its skin glistening like a spectrum-- leaped from the water, dancing and splashing and looking like the two pound slab of muscle it was.
"It's a little like American Sportsman," he said to her as she was bringing the fish to land in her net.
"I told you the fish would be back!"
Maureen unhooked the trout as she held it in the water, letting it catch its breath before she let it swiin away; downstream it went, away from the battery plant. I know where they raise these guys in tanks, we'll get our dinner there. Vv'ho knows this one could be the last one left in the stream."
They spent another two hours fishing and then hiked back down but not before taking a rest at the spring again.
"What's going on inside that head of yours, Mr. Davidson?"
"Oh, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.
"Yeah,, about what?"
"A lot of things, like my role on this mess of a planet. My employee's missing brother; you know I ran away from this place because I got that famous authority problem stuff going on inside my head but your father and Grenden and whoever else in that fiicked up church just rubbed me the wrong way. And the more I learn about some of the stunts they apparently pulled and squirmed their ways out of, the more I know that I was right. Again, here I am; I quit the Philly Police Department because I was afraid I was going nuts and, after meeting Dennis, it looks like we've got another disappearance on our hands. How many have they gotten away with completely? What do you think? How many dead at theChurch's hands? Maureen, my love, do you ever look around and notice how much the dead walk with us?"
"Of course I have. Dennis's brother was here. Lloyd asked me not to talk about it after he saw Dennis show up at the house last night; if you would've asked me about it at die store I would have told you all about it. Fuck, if you would asked a half hour before ; I would have told you. The guy's name is Raymond McPherson, he made little movies when he wasn't teaching college; he went out with Jennifer Johnson for awhile before he upped and took off. That's Jennifer' s version as to what happened at least, I'm sure you remember Jennifer we went to the Fall Festival with her and a date when you were here last."
"You have any idea the last time Jennifer saw Dennis's brother?"
"Not really but I roughly remember running into her at the Farmer's Market-- we really
don't run into each other all that much anymore-- I remember her telling me that the guy she was
seeing took off. A black stranger shows up in Kurtzville with a movie camera he gets noticed, you know?
"You think she'll talk to me and Dennis?"
"She was pretty hot about the guy taking off but wow if he was hurt or something like that, I'm sure she'll help you out plenty. She's a nice woman, just has too many responsibilities that I don't have. Kids. I don't know if any of these men are capable of murder but they sure as fuck were capable of destroying my womb. I can't have kids. After you ran off......
"I went to college
"You walked to Topton in the middle of the night and boarded a bus to State College."
Nobody was real upset about it. "
"You should have called. "
"I hope you'll forgive me."
"Frankly, my love, some things happened to me the year after you left and I can't help but thinking that had you not left those bad things would not have happened? You know?"
"I went out with a college student from over in Topton; I ended up pregnant. I don't know how they found but they found out. Binder and my father came and took me to that old diseased veterinarian who performed abortions. The vet used the same tools he used on the animals, Mark. Like the rest of diem, fuck, like the rest of us, he was an alcoholic and his hands must have been just a little too jittery. He destroyed my womb, I didn't know for sure that my uterus was worthless until Lloyd and I went down to an obstetrician in Philly; she told me for sure: a million dollars couldn't heal it. By the time that old drunk was through with me, my womb was perforated and purified. Yeah, you want to be bom into this world you gotta get through the Kurtzville Gatekeepers: no mixing of the blood here."
"And you stay here? You've had 100k sitting in trust, waiting for you since your mom died, why stay?"
"Grenden is the church's lone trustee now that my father's dead; once he goes, all the church's property goes back into another trust where it is to remain until the church is rebuilt again. I plan on stealing that money from the trust. There's a lot of stuff in it, some very valuable
antiques. Maybe I rebuild the church some day, maybe I don't.
The way I see it, the church owes me damages caused
me by the destruction of my womb." They embraced and kissed and the picture fadewout. An hour and a half later he dropped her off at her house. He watched her kiss Lloyd on the cheek as she walked in the front door.
Lloyd pulled her back and kissed her hard.
It was real quiet out at the Improper; dark and quiet was pretty much the story. Every few minutes a car or truck would buzz down 737, but that was 3/4 a mile away. Mark sat there, waiting for Dennis. He listened; he heard someone walking up the winding road, purposely making noise as if they were trying to scare away any predatory animals that might be lurking around.
"Your brother was here," Mark said to Dennis as he approached, "you were right my cousin was full of shit last night. "
"Big deal, no kidding he was here but I can top your story."
"Yeah, what strange things did you come across in my new hometown?"
"I saw your friend Lloyd, that guy Binder and that old man pullikfat priest you were talking about out of the back of an Astrovan. They'd already had a burlap sack over his head and he was handcuffed; they took him into the
. I heard somebody-- probably him-- screaming as soon as they got him inside. They had fire going up there in the tower, looked like torches." Historical Building
"If you don't mind my asking, what were you doing at die Historical Society?"
"I was drinking over at Toad Creek-- you were a frequent topic of conversation by the way-- for a while and then decided I'd take a walk through the woods, you know full moon illumination and all. It's been a long time since I took a nighttime walk through the woods. I can tell you this, Mark, some of our answers as to what's going on in Kurtzville are in up there in that tower. I'm pretty sure they killed that slob up there so you might want to exercise a little caution around your relatives. They might want you up there in that tower. I'm sure they'd like to see me up there. (pause) Boss, they are killing people up here.
"Yeah, well, that's why I carry my baby; I knew my uncle and most of that congregation he spoke to weekly were a little nuts but I didn't think they were killing people. (Yeah, sure) They passed the next hour drinking beers, both of them silently overlooking the now quiet 737 and the nature that surrounded them.
"You sure you want to stay out here instead of the
"Yeah," Dennis replied, "the more I see of this town, the more I prefer being outside of it."
"Point taken. See you in the morning, we'll get some real work done."
Mark got into GTO, gunned it to life and tore off back toward the motel.
He had one more Bourbon Presbyterian, staring at himself in the miror the whole time.
He drifted off to a dreamless sleep.
Mark awoke at , showered and headed over to Topton and picked up a couple breakfasts to go. He drove with the top down, the chilling early November air whipping by. His spirits were as high as they'd been in years: even before Lenny's death, he was sinking downward into a serious brand of 20th century melancholia.
Upon arrival at the inn, Mark and Demiis ate breakfast and went to work-- continuing to remove the dead pieces of the Improper until roughly three in the afternoon. They stopped for the day and had beers. They weren't going to stop drinking for the rest of their stays in Kurtzville.
Mark surveyed the work completed and forked over three hundred fifty bucks in tens. "I'll buy the drinks later."
"Hey dude," Dennis asked sipping a beer, "you think we can drive out to the trailer park, maybe talk to that chick Ray went out with?"
The park was named the
. It's just another rural trailer park ghetto, mostly populated by the unfortunates lucky enough to work at the foundry. Jennifer came out of her house when she heard the GTO pull up; she had that "what now?" look on her face. He walked to the fence, keeping an eye on the gaggle of mixed race children running around the little yard. Beeber Trailer Park
She wore tight jeans but maybe she shouldn't have, Mark thought to himself. She must've been 70 pounds heavier than when he saw her last; he looked again at all those kids nmning around.
"You look like your brother, " she said to Dennis as they walked into the small property's front gate. "I don't know where he is. I talked to Maureen this morning; now I hope he left town after the way she talked. Me and Ray," she said, her head dutifully bowing to the floor. "There's a guy, an Indian or Native American or whatever the proper term is these days, he lives m a junkyard he owns. Look for the sign to the place, he had a better idea as to what Ray was up to than I do. "
It started pouring as they pulled away, Jennifer called the children inside.
The heavily wooded and wet-- but paved-- road that led to Angstadt's Junkyard was at
least scenic, Mark thought to himself. They drove through the downpour in the midst of a seasonally bare (we hope!) line of oak trees.
They both marvelled at the scenic waterfall that dropped a hundred feet off
, just off the road. Blue Mountain
"Rain's coming down pretty hard, eh?"
Mark looked down at the Saucony-- running brown and fast-- that ran next to the road; it looked to be near flooding stage.
There was a sign at the junkyard's entrance read: NO SCRAP TAKEN TIL SPRING FURS BEING BOUGHT NOW. A German Shepherd barked at them fiercely. A man came out of the blue schoolbus that was sunk so far into the mud that it looked like it was made in it. The guy hunched over as he walked toward the shepherd; he took the dog by the collar and gently led him to the chicken coop a few yards away. The chickens squawked, then quieted down.
"What do you two want?" the guy asked as he walked toward them, "car parts for your getaway car? hahahaha!"
"No," Mark said, taking the investigative lead, "I want to ask you some questions about Doctor Ray Macpherson."
"Are you a cop?"
"Is he a cop?"
Wearily, he beckoned to them. "Let's go inside."
Once inside they both looked around at the place: it looked like an art studio, both finished and unfinished clay sculptures cluttered the bus' interior.
"Would you two like beers?" the Indian asked, no doubt smelling the alcohol they brought in with them. They accepted and he returned in seconds with a couple Kurtzville BottlingWorksbeers. "You look like your brother,"he said to Dennis.
"Do you know what happened to him?" Mark asked.
"He stopped coming around; I don't know."
"Did he leave? Was he finished his research?"
"I'm going to ask you again friend," Angstadt inquired of Mark, eyeing him warily. "Areyouacop? I'l ltell you the trLith; l'm dying of stomach cancer. It's time for me to talk, you know?"
"I quit the Philly Police Force on Monday.
"You got that take charge aura some cops have."
"Well now that we know who is who, I'll let you in on the big secret. I think the members of that whacko religious cult that masquerades as a church killed him. Ray thought the Kurtzville church was an apocalypse cult that had been practicing in secret for three centuries; Kurtzville was a remote and secluded area until the sixties, maybe your uncle was right, maybe the end is coming..."
"You know who I am?" Mark asked, obviously genuinely surprised.
"You used to walk the roads by the Saucony with a fishing pole, you reminded me of a sad Tom Sawyer. Yeah, they don't separate church and state much around here.
is a religious state; your uncle and his gang were acquainted with all the political players who were willing to lend an ear to a preacher's various causes. But you and your cousin, Maureen you two reject the church, eh?" Pennsylvania
"That's about right; is being the son of a god something you want to deal with? You think being acquainted with a god's sorrows is some kind of picnic?"
"Yet, you appear to be like your uncle," the Angstadt said confidently, "guns, liquor and the lust for the flesh of your own blood."
"This is getting Biblical all right," Dennis interjected with a smirk.
"It all apparently started for the Europeans around here when a guy named Jacob Kurtz moved in, kicked some of my ancestors asses right out of here and started some farms.... and a church.
Jacob nor his associates had ever experienced such magnificent crop growth as they got here. It's been a fertile area for centuries; Jacob caught onto this and decided it was a good idea to worship who was really responsible for the wonderful harvests they enjoyed here. They began worshipping nature under the guise of Christianity and becairne part of the what the Christians call the pagan tradition.
"A few years after, Jacob and his wife, Maggy, were trying to have a child to no avail. Maggie had produced three stillboms who were buried in the yard just outside their lovely stone house; she was being driven mad by the kinds of pressures that were still felt those days when a woman couldn't provide an heir to her husband.
"One afternoon, Jacob was up in the hills rabbit hunting when he found an egg that sang to him. The egg promised he and Maggie a child. Just stick the egg inside her, it told Jacob, that would do the job.
"And it did. They had a beautiful and strong child. They named it Mark believe it or not. Maggie and Jacob soon learned that there was a small catch-- the magic child was a conduit of thanks. If the small group of farmers that benefitted from the tremendous crop growth expected it to continue, something was expected from them. The new gods they chose to worship in their new land now expected something from them-- the flesh of some of their newborns. Keep the gods happy with the flesh of infants and the crops grow. That was the deal and for a century and a half and six magic children the gods kept their part of the deal--the crops grew.
"Sometime in the 20s, though, one of these children began exhibiting horrible tumors and this particular child apparently grew into some sort of monster that you folks have been hiding up in that Historical Society's tower for the past 70 years or so. At least that's the legend......
"Do you know anything about this?" Dennis asked Mark.
"It's all new to me" was his still calm response.
But something was building inside him now, something that felt like it was going to be real hard to stop.
"It's in you my friend and there's no way to get it out, there's no way to escape from your fates. Go to the cabin Ray rented while he was here digging around, it's back by 737 and the waterfall. It's hard to miss my friends.
"You want to take a ride?" Mark asked the Indian.
"No thank you-- I would say that you two are the last two people I want to be seen with around here."
"I got one more question, sir. Do you think my cousin is involved in the killings that have been and are going on around here?"
"No. I don't think so. I think that Maureen adheres to different philosophies than her family does. I'm a bit of a voyeur, you know, I've seen her out in the
woods, practicing her chants. I think she's basically pure.
"Thanks for your help," Dennis offered.
"No problem. "
"You wanna go check out the cabin?" Dennis asked.
"Might as well," Mark replied, a feeling of nervousness beginning to seep into his spine.
"If this place is so tucked up," Dennis asked, "why do you stay here?"
"Don't fall for that commie leftist pinko liberal bullshit that tells you that Indians know nothing about property ownership. This is good land. Someday the crops will again grow strong and I-- in one incarnation or another-- will be here waiting. But until then I'm lying low, you know what I mean don't you Mark?"
"I'm beginning to get the idea, yeah."
"When this Kurtzville Congregation crap is over stop by and have a beer, Mark. You too Dennis. I get lonely out here and I like to talk."
"Maybe if you clean the place up, calm the dog down, people might stop by."
"The hell with it," Angstadt said in reply, waving his hand. He took the Shepherd back inside the bus with him. The rain was not letting up.
As they barreled toward the scene of the crime, Mark noticed the Goat was having problems climbing the hill. It must've been a pinhole leak in the radiator hose: a little steain was coming from under the hood. Each drop of rain was doing its part to keep them reaching Ray Macpherson. Mark looked down at the creek-- it was still right there, on the edge of flooding. Still runing brown and smooth over the rocks.
"There," Mark said, breaking an extended silence, "it looks like someone was living down there." He pointed to what appeared to have been a bulldozed-over cabin.
He saw the dirt road that led to the ruined cabin then steered onto it and followed it down until the combination of precipice, weather and the car's old age made him too nervous to continue with the car.
"Why you stopping? It's pouring."
"I'm afraid our only means of escape might get stuck or the creek flooding. We should've walked down the whole They got out of the car wand walked down the muddy hill. They were soaked to the bone by the time they got to the Jeff cabin.
The property line was posted with signs: NO TRESPASSING. Some cat named Tommy Binder, Esq. signed them all.
They both checked the place out. It was bulldozed over all right-- the rain was falling into the ruts left by the machine. A number of trees were knocked over too-- no doubt to create a blind that would prevent people from seeing and exploring what was at the bottom of the hill for awhile. There were monsters at the bottom of the hill.
There was a shed still standing, its green fiberglass roof blowing in the wet wind. They saw one of the cabin's walls was still standing, sort of. They saw the cabin had once had a small cellar that was now flooded.
"What a fucking mess-- I guess we ought to look around," Mark said.
Dennis immediately went for the flooded basement area, stopping on the stairs-- after going ankle deep in the murky pool; "Hey, man," Mark began, "those stairs probably aren't real strong......
The stairs must've given out because Dennis fell through, disappearing for a moment before coming back up gagging up brown water.
That's when the dead began to dance in the dusk that was just beginning to settle over Kurtzville.
A very dead and very gray hand rose behind Dennis's head. What with the full moon and all that had just poked its way over
, it was positively surreal. Flesh hung downward and loose from the hand that was floating and bobbing just behind Dennis, just out of his vision until he felt something bump against his leg and he turned to see what it was. Dennis saw it was a corpse and panicked-- frantically swimming to the broken stairs which broke again as he tried climbing up. Smithville Peak
Mark recognized that it was a good idea to get Dennis out of that pit before he drowned; he braced himself against the ledge and put out a helping hand which Dennis grabbed as soon as he could. He felt the pain coming as soon as Dennis grabbed his hand; electric fucking pain shot through his body (he should've paid more anention to that twinge!) as soon as Dennis tried pulling himself out using Mark as his brace. A nervous system shortout and Mark involuntarily dropped Dennis who then fell back in, causing the newly discovered body to bob in a more animated fashion. Mark rebraced himself and used his better arm. Dennis climbed out, soaked with what could be diseased water. looked down at his own shoulder which was now hanging loosely by his side.
"Maybe we should both go to the hospital, sorry about that drop, it's an old softball injury, Mark said. "No kidding," Dennis replied disinterestedly while he stared at the headless corpse which was floating in a circle on the surface. Someone must've tied it down-- because someone tied a rope around the headless body's now bloated gut. It was just another disfigured corpse the way Mark saw it; he had to reniind himself that it this guy's brother. These kinds of moments are different when its your headless brother silently floating and decaying in a flooded cellar in the middle of the quiet and dense
The water must have been cold: Dennis was beginning to shiver from the chill and quake from that fmal realization that the hunt was over and the results are what was expected but certainly not hoped for. He just stared into that pool, watching the body spin slowly in a slo mo circle. He was losing coherence.
"That's him, Jesus fucking Christ that's him!" Dennis walked to one of the number of huge decaying oaks that lay around the property and sat down. He was sobbing like a little beaten up kid.
Mark looked around the area for somethmg he could use to pull the body out of the water. "Dennis, could you do me a favor and pull yourself together enough to help me find something we can pull him out with, a big stick or something? Something like the lifeguards use. "
They each sat in contemplative silence for about five minutes before the search for the "rescue" device equivalent began. Mark broke the silence: "Dennis, how you doing buddy?"
"I'm all right, time to get the show on the road, eh?"
"Yeah, I found a tarp in the shed; I was thinking we pull the body to the edge, get the tarp under him and then both? (pull upward. That oughta work.
"This is your kind of business my man ......
Mark stared into the murky pool (that batch of dead people from Front Street returns for a second in the form of a psychic flash)
"I know you ain't one of them," Dennis continued, "but, man, this was the only relative I had. There might be a point where you are going to have to back off-- you know? Don't worry, if Maureen is involved in this I won't hurt her. I couldn't kill a chick. Just couldn't do it. But the rest of those muthaftickers are fair game the way I see it. "
"As long as you don't hurt Maureen I could care less what you do.
"Just wanted you to know what's going on. "
Mark moved on to another subject. "One of us is going to have to go into the water so we can get the tarp around the body and push from underneath. That cool with you?"
He climbed into the water after dropping the tarp into the pool. "I'm going to have to go under for a second. When I come up the body should bob a little. Pull hard, use your legs. If the body starts falling apart, I'm bailing out. I don't want its bones piercing my skin, you can catch some awfully nasty shit from the broken bones of a rotting corpse.
Dennis nodded. Taking a deep breath, Mark went under.
Dennis pulled and they were able to lift the putrid corpse to the good step easily enough. Dennis pulled it out completely with a heave and a wail.
Mark got of the fetid pool as quickly as he could.
They both stared at the corpse-- some kinds of water insects were burrowing their way through the gray flesh of the headless body. Mark noticed there was some kind of weird looking maggot on his leg and he shook it off spasmodically, again experiencing the pain Yhis shoulder. It was now close to dark.
Dennis wrapped the body more carefully for transport and Mark rummaged through the Goat's trunk, finding some towels and grabbing some beers. Walking back down toward the cabin, he tried wiping the mud with the motel towels but there was just too much.
"Fuck this," he muttered and walked down toward the swiffly moving Saucony, and waded in fully clothed. Dennis came down and bathed.
Back at the ruined cabin-- cleaner but still soaked and really beginning to feel the late October chill on top the soaking they each got-- they both began shivering.
"About the same height as your brother?"
"Something tore his head off. That's not a sword or axe. Whoever did this......
"Whoever in your family, in that church you're mixed up with," Dennis interrupted-reminding how tightly the ties that bind tie.
Darkness and madness was closing in around them. Mark had heard enough and he exploded.
"Shut the fuck up! What do you want me to do go back to Philly and tell somebody that there are murders up here?
"Now do you want to help me get this guy-- your brother-- into the trunk? Get him back to the Improper and plan our next move. I think it's best we keep this whole thing close to the vest and deep, deep underground. How bout you?"
"Yeah, that's the right idea; I'm all fucked up emotionally, try not to pay too much attention to me. I'm not about to start pulling the trigger ... yet. After we get Ray's body into the car we should dig around the trees, Ray used to deal a little grass on the side and he usually kept his stashes of that kind of stuff outside of the house somewhere. He was as good as people get when it came to hiding things from the man."
They hauled the body up the muddy hill and put it in the open and waiting tnmk. Then they returned down to the cabin site and began the search; it didn't take long for Dennis to find a sizeable Tupperware type of container containing cassette tapes and a couple of joints.
It was time to return to the Improper.
"I guess it's time for us to kick back, drink a few beers and listen to how Doctor Ray Macpherson spent his last days in search of your family's jealously kept and insane secrets," Dennis said before trailing off to sip on his beer.
The car had problems with the cooling system but Mark took it easy and the cooling temperatures helped. He nonetheless kept a careful eye on the temperature gauge.
"Is it alright?" Dennis asked.
"Yeah it should be okay as long as I take it easy."
Inside the Improper's smaller dining room they strung some bare workbulbs across the room in order to set up the autopsy room. Dennis carried a steel worktable up from the basement.
"Does the tape player on your box work?" Mark asked, pointing to Dennis's radio/cassette combo.
"Barely-- the tape player's all tucked up-- it runs real slow but sa'njtg%s it's just info on the tape we're looking for we'll get the substance of what's going on.
Mark plugged the music box into one of the wall outlets and it was at that moment that the bolt of lightning appeared (with thunder rapidly following in about half a second!) to crash into Dunkel's Hill which towered just behind The Improper. A few seconds later the power came back on briefly and then went out again. More lightning and more loud, rapidly following thunder followed and the power appeared as if it was staying off. They stood there in stunned silence until Dennis broke it.
"Looks like someone's trying to hold us back from the truth, eh?"
"You ready for another beer?" Dennis asked while fumbling around for his flashlight. He found it, turned it on and went to the cooler and grabbed two ice colds.
They went outside to the patio, staring into the now completely darkened small town. After about five minutes the power was restored. The electric company repair person had obviously done their job; they watched a power company truck in the distance, its domelight cutting across the barren cornfields.
"You wanna go back in and listen?"
"And ruin this kind of peace?" Dennis asked rhetorically as he got up from the ground and walked into the bar. The tape's face: RAY MACPHERSON,
9/1/19-; the headless body sat wrapped and iced on the table just a few feet behind them.
They ran the tape.
The tape recorder was running real slow: "...as best as I can tell, many of the people of this region live under the delusion that there is a female denligod that controls the day to day operation of their lives in a direct manner and provides them guidance. This being, named Tessie, reads minds. This being is, according to church belief, responsible for the magnificent crop growth this region is noted for.
"I have arrived at a time when the crops have been steadily failing-- the fields are laying barren-- and filled with rats. Yet the people I have talked to around here cling to a belief that Tessie will again be well and again able to provide.
"As best as I can tell after snooping around a little bit, I am finding that there may be a living physical thing that these people think is their god. It is obviously hidden and not a part of their services, which they have let me sit in on. I suspect what they think is a god is more like some sort of deformed child, kind of like we think the Jersey Devil was. " (Pause) (pause) (pause) (pause).... then Ray had become more frantic and started to sound like maintaining his sanity was becoming a problem.
" How have people lived on the eastern coast for three hundred years and not have done something about these people! How have they hidden this horrible religion? My god they sacrifice the infants of the poor! They slaughter babies in the name of Lucifer!" (pause) (pause) (pause) .... it started again: "Christ Almighty, they found my hidden camera. Now they know what I am really up to. I told them I was an agriculturalist, not an anthropologist and that I was interested in their non machinery farming methods. Whoever hears this, please, I don't care if it's the year 2030, these people must be dealt with. For -devil is truly on earth. They show no regard for humans and slaughter them like sheep....
"Tonight I forced my way into the tower and watched those lunatics tend to the beast. The creature truly exists and she is horrible. Or (pause) am I suffering from the same sort of mass hypnotism or psychosis that these people are experiencing?
"My life my sanity ended the moment I stepped into Kurtzville. Is she human? Or is she a worm or is she a walrus, I can't tell.
"Grenden has spotted me and he is definitely on to me. I'm trying to keep to myself, tend to chores around the cabin but I know they are watching me, daring me to try to escape with the news I have discovered. The way I see it I have a choice: I try to run away or I run straight into the Historical Society and destroy the creature! I'm afraid I've lost what little sanity I had left after the breakdown ... (pause, roll of static)
"I think I did it," the tape went on, "last night I forced my way inside and got the jump on Binder. I gagged him and tied him up but Tessie began sending out those mind messages of hers-- I knew I didn't have a lot time. I ran to the tower. The Devil spoke, trying to convince me not to kill her. I drove a spear into her. And again and again. And again. The townspeople's trucks approached. I managed to get out of the building but it's only a matter of time before they find me. I have no chance in the woods, the infected devildogs are everywhere. The roads are of course being watched. I shall make one more assault-- how did I become the avenger Willy?-- tonight I shall try to bum their vile Historical Society to the ground. Someone please find this. Oh sweet Jesus tell me before I die, who am I?
Roll of static. Click. End of tape.
."I'm going to go talk to Maureen tomorrow. I hope I can contain my rage long enough to learn the truth.
About he staggered to the Goat and drove to the
. As soon as he neared the lot he saw that someone was waiting for him in his motel room-- the lamp was on. A sure sign that someone's either real smart or real dumb. Lincoln
It didn't take long.
Mark knocked on the door, ready to draw but pretty sure it was Maureen inside. Maureen answered the door and he immediately saw that Maureen had a pretty good shiner going over and under her left eye.
He kissed her on the lips. "Lloyd?"
"Yep. I told him about us. "
Mark shook his head, indicating that Maureen's announcement was probably a bad idea.
They made love without saying another word to each other; by the time they were done the sun was pretty near up but the sky remained dark because of a batch of grey storm clouds that remained hovering over Kurtzville's barren fields. They laid there for awhile-- listening to the birds chirp.
"Let's go to the Farmer's Market and grab some bacon and eggs."
Mark made a quick jerry rig repair on the radiator hose's pinhole leak by wrapping it with duct tape; he also added a little water to the car's relatively huge radiator.
They drove to the Farmers' Market, bought the breakast material and then went to the inn.
"Dennis?" Mark called out. He and Maureen stood in the parking lot before walking forward. No answer.
They walked into the baroom; Mark hurriedly walked to the small dining room where Dennis's brother's body lay, poked his head inside, half expecting to see Dennis next to the body but he was not there. He closed the door behind him, remembering to keep Maureen from opening the dining room door.
"Hello?" Dennis called out from The Improper's upstairs as he walked down to meet his visitors.
Hi Maureen," he said with a tone of measured friendliness as he entered the barroom.
"Sorry folks but bed and breakfasts are at least six or seven months away. Still got to put
roof on, " Dennis said, pointing to the hole in the ceiling.
"Cat's out of the bag," Mark said, "Lloyd beat the crap out of Maureen after the dumb bitch told him about us."
"Terrific," Dennis said in response, "me and my brother killed in the same bumfukburg in seperate incidents by the same gang. American fucking Dream. You think that asshole will make his way over here?"
"Don't worry; if he is, I'm ready to take care of him-- you can be sure of that," Mark said, removing his .25 and checking to make sure it was ready to go. "Yeah and keep Maureen out of the dining room, I don't want her seeing the body."
Maureen was already making the breakfast with a grill, a cast iron pan and the open flame she was carefully controlling.
"You find out if your lady's on the level?"
"I'll talk to her about what really went on that made Lloyd smack her around. But I'm gonna do that when you are over in Reading getting some supplies that we are going to need if we are ever going to get this bar up and running. Here's a hundred bucks; I want you to get a pair of good sledgehammers. We are going through that wall.
"Get a five gallon can of gasoline. And a couple boxes of wooden matches. Have a few beers at a local tavern somewhere-- but stick with beer, I want you brave not incoherent. You got that?"
"Yeah, I got that."
Mark watched Dennis and Maureen exchange greetings and partings in the Improper's lot1` before Dennis got into the Goat and drove off slowly. He went outside, stood by Maureen and they both stared into the fire. Breakfast was done and they ate.
"You want to hike to the peak?"
"How high is it?"
His body was doing one better than tingling when they made love halfway up the mountain. They were finished and walked another five hundred feet before coming across an old moss covered stone altar.
"You know anything about this? " he asked her, looking at the ancient stone altar that he'd never seen before though he'd hiked this mountain dozens of times when he was as a teenager.
"It's an old Indian thing, it's been here for years. You sure me and you never came across this thing when we were back here hiking?"
The temperature was hovering somewhere in the mid 50s; autumn is beautiful in
Appalachia. He told himself that he was going to be spending a lot of time up here. Up on the air was thinner. Hawk Mountain
They stayed on top of the peak for two hours before heading down.
"Let's go back to the bar and sit by that fire baby.
They built a fire inside the main barroom. It was a nice fire for autumn-- not too much in the heat department. Mark stared into the fireplace, deliberating. He had to know if Maureen had played a part in Demis's brother's death. He had to know.
"What would you think if I told you Ray Macpherson was still here?"
"I don't know, is he?" she asked as a matter of factly. "You mean here?"
"Yeah, come say hi."
He opened the door and she saw the headless corpse on ice.
"Do you want to leave Kurtzville now?"
"Oh please hold me," she said, pleading with outstretched arms. "They swore to me that they just ran him out of town.
He went to her and they embraced; he was completely softening up emotionally when she stuck him in the ass with something sharp. She removed the hypodermic needle from his butt, showing it to him briefly before tossing it into the fireplace. He smacked her before he staggered and hit the floor.
"Dream on lover," she said to him before leaving the barroom. "They swore to me that they were just going to run him out of town. I'll come clean and tell you all about it now, lover. You're here for a reason, you know that and you knew that all along.
"I need the important part of you, Mark. My womb needs repairing; I got pregnant last year but it wasn't by Lloyd and it wasn't a church member. Lloyd and my father and Binder and old Grenden dragged me to that old veteranarian who was so drunk when he cut into me that he wrecked my womb, maybe he wrecked our religion....
Whatever she injected him with, the dreams were lucid. This time he is wandering around the Historical Society's upstairs lobby.
He sees himself in a number of the pictures that hang on the Historical Socety's walls. Everybody's drunk and it looks like it's the 30s. A tiny wave of water has slowly come out from behind a closed and is now covering the entire floor. Mark is ankle deep in the murky water. The water is coming from his sister Tessie's room, where she waits for him. Waits for a ftick. In the distance he hears a shriek; he reaches for his gun but it's not there.
Mark looks outside into the Kurtz family graveyard that sits just next to the Historical Society. A fat headless guy, dressed like a priest, is clumsily trying to escape from the graveyard but he keeps bumping into tombstones. The headless body falls and breathes heavily-trying to suck in oxygen through its gushing stump. The head's been tom and chewed, never cleanly severed. Not enough violence in a razor cut: the fiends must feel pain. There is a wet living moss growing all over his body. The greenish substance is closing the stump. Tessie called.
The beer drinking homeless guy from the river in Philly nms out of Tessie's room; he's been castrated-- those light brown polyester pants are stained with blood. bIood begins spilling outward from Tessie's room.
Lemy comes out from Tessie's chamber: her face is half shredded but she's still alive.
"Mark? How could you do this to me? You're not human, I was going to marry the beast?"
She runs out of the lobby, out the front door which stays open and across the field, away from Kurtzville.
He enters Tessie's chamber and watches Tessie's pulsating skin. It looks like the grayish skin of The Toad. After hundreds of years he comes face to face with the Devil's Daughter. His sister. Her hideous warts breathe and each has a face. He makes love to her and her tentacles wrap around his throat. Then he's making love to Maureen and then Lenny (with an entire face!) But then it splits in two again. (Tessie's tentacles must be creating these hallucinations, he thinks to himself in his dream). The tentacles lift him from the ground and he hears the loud chiniing sounds of medical tools being used. He explodes in orgasm, screaming.
He goes inside her again, lo klog ver at the Lloyd and Grenden watching with approval. In the back of the primitive chamber of worship are a small group of corpses watching from the shadows. They are clapping a beat in unison. They stand and scream and fly out the chamber windows on brooms, screaming all the way.
The scene shifts and now he's riding down the furiously rushing Saucony-- he's riding one of Eugene's bottlegging barrels when he smashes into a rock. ALWAYS GETTING YOURSELF KILLED, Maureen's voice calls out to him. NOT THIS TIME, LOVER. And it all goes black to the sound of a fading heartbeat.
More sounds of medical tools are heard as he lays there drugged and semiconscious. Someone was operating on him but he was so heavily sedated there was nothing he could do! He hears the sounds of his skin tearing but he doesn't feel it. He tries to wake. Please. I want to wake up. "Don't be afraid lover," Maureen's echoing and angelic voice said, "it's all natural. It's all natural. " And the beat goes on: the rumbling of a machine brings Mark out of his groggy sleep.
He woke up and looked around. "Maureen?" But he knew she was not there. She had gotten what she wanted. He had been out for some time: the shadows shifted, dusk was near. Blood was all over the sheet he was wrapped in. She left the evidence-- we @)Xgical tools lay strewn about the room. Now he knew what was in the gym bag she'd brought along, emptied of its tools and left/there. Since his penis was part of his body where there was numbness instead of pain, he figured that's where she cut and he was right-- one of his testicles had been removed.
He looked out the window-- Dennis was checking out the steaming engine after opening the GTO's hood.
"But it was all just a myth, right?" Mark muttered to himself as he walked to the barroom from The Improper's second floor. He met Dennis at the front door.
"Hooo, brother, you reek of beer. Got any? I need a fucking beer," Mark asked.
"Yeah, there's two cases in the trunk. Hey man," Dennis asked, looking at Mark, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Mark replied curtly, but he knew he was actually far from fme. He should have told Dennis to run; he should have told Dennis to get the ftick out of Kurtzville. But he didn't.
" I got the sledgehammers," Dennis said.
Mark watched-- no he fixated on-- the steam escaping from the Goat's cooling system.
"Hey, man, you sure CourDal right; you look pale.
"I'm fine, let me see that fucking car." It was all clear now and his role here was becoming apparent to him. Now he knew why he loved the shadows and not the light. Nothing but struggles between a bunch of struggling gods who've walked the earth for thousands of years.
He had a psychic flash of one of his former selves executing a Neandertal, crushing his skull with a large rock.
"Sorry about the car."
"Don't worry about it. I should have fixed it before I left Philly. It'll have to do, I got to talk with Maureen. "
"You guys have a fight?"
"Nope. When I get back we are going through the wall but wait until I get back."
"You are the bossman and I'm not sure I want to know."
"I got to talk to that fucking bitch. This picture just keeps getting more fuzzy as the hours pass.
Yeah, he thought to himself, this car can take sure take a beating. "Yeah baby it was a good ride, you can sure take a beating." Mark tore off the road and into one of the plowed cornfields, driving like a madman. He saw the old abandoned and half standing church about a half mile away, the scene of the boy's murder. That was just as good as any place to die, he thought to himself-- pushing the pedal to the floor a little harder. He had it going at a buck-ten when he saw a better place to die-- the oak tree that stood about a hundred yards in front of him. Sixty yards ... twenty yards ... IMPACT!"
Just before flying through the window he heard his uncle's voice: It's too late to die, Mark. It's already begun.
As he flew through a Kurtzville field, Uncle Eugene Kurtz gave Mark a tour through Hell, The Kingdom that was soon to be his. A lot of red, a lot people seemed to be enjoying themselves. "See Mark it's a good place to rule. Join us. Uncle Eugene sat on a moss-covered throne that itself was made from some kind of alien-like bones.
was decomposing hardcore yet still retained some human flesh (though it was putrescent) Mark landed in the field and lay there, broken but regenerating courtesy of his uncle. He lay there listening to his bones creak and repair themselves. Eugene
A crow hovered and waited for him to die, the crow was hungry for some eyes.
He stood up and watched the sun set over Kurtzville. The crow (which had by then landed) took off as Mark stood. He pointed his revolver at the crow and pulled the trigger, transforming the crow into a scattered spray of its red blood and black feathers.
"Still got that Academy aim."
He limped toward Maureen's house; he was curious to see if she still wanted him. After all, she'd gotten what she needed.
When he arrived at Maureen's he thought it a good idea to sneak in through the backyard. Best to surprise her; he had a lot of questions to ask the bitch, all of them to be asked in quick detective-like fashion.
Someone had wheeled one of those car engine lift cranes out and set it up next to the roaring leaf incinerator. Someone was inside the incinerator-- still alive, their fingers grasped weakly at the edge of the incinerator. Mark watched Lloyd try to feebly make his way out of the incinerator and then crash downward, sending embers everywhere. A lot of crackling.
A few more yards toward the house, he saw Deputy Wyandt hanging by the neck from a tree.
A couple crows sat on his shoulders, pecking out his eyes. The crows created an imbalance that kept Wyandt's body revolving and swinging a bit among the setting sun. He stayed hidden; Maureen came out of the house, wearing a robe. She carried a pair of hooks which she dug into Lloyd's chest as soon as she stood above him. Then she connected the hooks to the chain on the engine winch.
She cranked the engine lift's winch, bringing the near death Lloyd out of the incinerator. His eyes were wide, filling up with terror. He groaned but could not scream like he wanted to. She cranked the squeaky lift some more, causing more pain.
Smoke rose upward.
She ran her nails across his scorched chest. Lloyd tried screaming again. Raspy nothings. Maureen pulled a very curved and very sacrificial looking knife from under her robe. As she carved his heart from his chest, Lloyd flailed weakly at the air. The heart was still beating as he licked a little blood from it.
She walked over to the box that sat on the picnic table and removed some more medical supplies. Rubber tubes and lanclets. She stuck the lancelets into Lloyd and and began draining his blood. She smeared the blood on her now naked body and began to dance. After about two minutes, she let Mark know he was there.
"Come out lover."
His tired body carried him to her, they embraced and collapsed in her arms. He basically recovered and they danced a waltz amongst the trees and the bodies and the early evening twilight. Bats flew above them. All went black after she sedated him with a kiss.
He awoke a half hour later. "Maureen?" Nope, she was gone and now it was just him and the crows and the dead bodies of the sheriff and his deputy. He started walking back toward The hnproper, it was difficult because his regenerating bones weren't healed yet. He listened; a car was coming his way; it was a car with a big engine. When the car pulled up, Mark it contained the kid from the gas station-- only now he had a gaping bullet wound in his forehead.
"Hey, man, you want a lift?"
"Yeah," Mark said as he got into the car. Once he was in the kid floored it down the road. "Yeah this county's great for speed, eh?"
"So, what happened to you?"
"I was talking to you the other night and it all became clear; if you want to drive in Kurtzville, you got to learn to walk amongst the dead."
The drive to The Improper took about two minutes at the insanely high speed the kid drove. He hit the brakes and they screeched to a halt at the bottom of the Improper's hill.
Mark got out of the car and started to thank the kid, already beginning to decompose a bit-- as his cheek had fallen off@th y braked and big flies were drinking the thick blood that was splattered all over the kid's flannel.
"No problem," the dead kid said, "just how about doing me a favor? Consider making me one of the drivers in your army? Eh, eh?"
"I'll consider it, kid."
"Well I'll be driving around these wonderful roads until I fall apart. Take it easy!
The kid floored it and sped off around the curve, tires squealing all the way.
He walked up the hill; the place had that empty feel to it-- no one had come to the front door to meet him.
"Maureen? I'm not going to shoot you, you can come out; I understand now.
He looked around the Improper; nope, nobody there but Ray's headless corpse. He went to the basement. Dennis had broken through the wall and obviously into the tunnel. But he left the gas can at the tumel's entrance.
Mark grabbed a flashlight, the gas and the matches; he climbed through the newly created and into the tunnel. As he walked through the tunnel, he recalled how similar the stone construction was to what he saw in his dreams-- plenty of headroom, plenty of torchholders.
During his walk through the tunnel, he stopped once, thinking that maybe there was someone (or something!) following him through the tunnel. He stopped, got real quiet and listened-- just couldn't tell-- and then he continued on. This subterranean passageway sure created a lot of shadows.
It took about five minutes to get to the Historical Society's basement; there must have been a brick wall there. Dennis had broken through; there were bricks everywhere. He climbed out of the tunnel and into the Historical Society's basement.
He took an appreciative whiff of the gasoline. Out of the shadows came a baseball bat wielding foaming at the mouth Tonnny Binder. Like some sort of crazed assasin, Binder smashed Mark across the back with the bat-- sending Mark and the gas and the flashlight flying.
"You fucking people! I talked to your uncle the other night! Yeah, rabies nothing to be afraid of..... He began speaking in alien, wholly unfamiliar tongues. Binder swung again and missed exposing his back-- Mark shot him in the back twice.
"I am the guy now! I'm the big guy! You got that?" He fired into Binder's back again. Binder was clumsily trying to scramble back into the darkness, bumping into the mmel's entrance and slumping to the ground-- blood and foam spilling from his mouth.
Mark climbed the stairs to the tower; he reached the rotting wooden door that separated him from his past. He went in and saw old man Grenden sitting by one of the three stained glass windows that allowed the room illumination. Grenden was gnawing on what was left of Dennis's head; a lot of blood and a lot of veins seemed to be all over the place.
"She hypnotized your friend and sent him to me. He kissed me right before I killed him. He said he loved Tessie. Say hello to your sister, Mark. Surely you remember your sister? Think back, think back to 1981. Think back to your baptism at your uncle's hands.
The psychic flashes continued-- this time they are memory flashes of when the congregation baptized him while they drank bourbon and orgied. A teenaged Maureen is blowing him as he rests against t old altar him and Maureen found the other day. There's a decapitated goat's head on the altar during this psychic flash however. It is raining blood on everyone.
Mark stared at the mummified creature; the dried out creature which sat still as death once had great jaws.
"She's as dead as dead but she's making a comeback!" Grenden exclaimed happily. Mark had never seen the old miserable exsheriff smile before.
The creature, his sister if Grenden was to be believed, looked a little like a walrus or a manatee. She was big and all her teeth were jagged or broken.
"Alcohol does terrible things to your memory, doesn't it Mark? Fucking blackouts. Do you accept Satan as your father and all the glory that comes with sitting at his left hand? Yes?"
"No," Mark replied, pointing his pistol at Grenden, sweat dripping from his brow. His soul quaked.
"Yeah every lifetime you get awfully shaken up when you find out why you are here on earth. This hot rodding suicide thing's been holding your father's kingdom back, Janus," Grenden said in a much deeper, much more Satan-like growl.
"What do you think of my art?" Grenden asked, tossing seven or eight 8xlO black and white photos.
Mark looked at them. They were pictures of the house where Mark had found the old lady only days ago. It's Grenden, hanging out with the now dead old lady and all those dead street urchins.
"Yeah that kind of stuff really shakes the Christian minister types up all right," Grenden said, chuckling. "But that is the job your father created for me.
"Pretty elaborate setup, eh? I don't remember."
"You don't need to remember, you just need to accept and you've accepted. The minute you flicked your sister was the minute you accepted. You tucked her a thousand years ago and you fucked her this morning. I can hear Tessie singing again. Music to my ears. "
But he remembered that the last time his soul quaked like this was back on the ancient
European plains where the congregation huddled, ate and fticked in dark caves.
Grenden took another bite of Demis's skull.
"Stop it, " Mark commanded, "or I shoot!"
"I'll be back, you know that as well as anyone does. Yeah, your sister stopped eating 20 years ago; she took after you, thought that she wasn't part of your father's church any longer. This here boy's brother finished her off. Been lots of infighting inside the congregation since Tessie died. Well, the good Reverend Eugene Kurtz will make his way to Kurtzville eventually. I can picture him now so comfortable in some nice wealthy family's nursery, so cute, so pure; such a clever little one for his age I'm sure his parents are saying now ... someone had to send your father his sacrifice, no?" He took another bite of Dennis's head.
The headless corpse that had formerly been Dr. Ray Macpherson had by this time crawled to the scene of the crime and was making its way toward Grenden.
"Come on Mark, you know it's bener to rule than to serve."
Grenden took another bite of Dennis's head. "Stop!"Mark cried out, his voice bordering on frenzy.
Grenden kept on eating and Mark shot. The gun's explosion was muffled considerably by the stone and moss. A trickle of blood came out of Grenden's forehead as he fell backward and was still. His piss made its way across the dirt floor.
He limped back to the basement where Binder lay dead; he grabbed the gas can and made sure he had matches. Mark listened and heard the echoing and satisfied laugh of a woman; the laugh came from the recesses of his mind. He ran back up the stairs to the tower as fast as his broken body would carry him. Back upstairs for a little purification action.
Once he was back inside his newly discovered sister's room he doused all the corpses with some gas, even Ray's which was still writhing for some reason or another. He doused Tessie's mummified form, making sure he filled those empty eye sockets with gas. He dropped one of the wooden matches into one of her eyesockets and the flames spread so quickly that he was lucky to make it out before the room was engulfed in orange heat. He limped downstairs and outside through the Society's ground floor. Once outside, he stopped for a couple seconds and listened to the Society's beams collapsing and thundering to the ground.
As he limped across the field the Society burned to the ground.
He walked into The Improper's barroom; Maureen was sitting naked at the bar having a drink. There was a 400 or so pound pig chained on a leash to the baffail, pacing back and forth, grunting and squealing.
"Well, I am sure glad you're still with us," he said with a smile. She patted bloated stomach, something very alive churned inside. Already. "The transformation' complete lover; come here let me see your hurt shoulder, let me massage it. "
She massaged his shoulder; it felt much better. Obviously she had the healing touch. She then walked over to the pig and sliced open its stomach. A normal looking human baby spilled out and into Maureen's hands; she immediately wrapped the child in a blanket. The pig fell over dead with a thump.
"I knew those bastards couldn't destroy the church no matter how hard they tried. We're parents, Mark. Parents of a healthy baby girl. As much human and as much beast as we are. I knew I could master the magicians' methods."
"Well what now?"
"You want to head north, find some place remote-- away from civilization?"
"Yeah, let's go."
The small and happy family walked out of The Improper, got into Maureen's Bronco and headed north.